Tag Archives: US Cabinet

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The Surprising Doctor Carter

Ashton+Carter+Senate+Armed+Services+Holds+UhNRqSF9NtNlOn Tuesday Dr. Ashton Carter begins his tenure as Secretary of Defense. While many observers regard Dr. Carter as a caretaker nominee tasked to mildly manage the Department of Defense (DOD) during the President’s last two years of office, the experienced and capable Dr. Carter has the potential to do much more. His strategy as Secretary should have three priorities.

First, Dr. Carter must develop new concepts and field new capabilities necessary to assure the ability of the United States to deter and defeat aggression, in particular by China. While the U.S. military was largely focused on Iraq and Afghanistan, China developed formidable Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities that threaten U.S. allies and partners in the vital Asia-Pacific region and complicate U.S. operations. While multiple states, including Russia and Iran, are fielding A2/AD capabilities, and while A2/AD capabilities may continue to proliferate globally, the ability of the United States to deter and defeat Chinese aggression serves as a bellwether for U.S. capabilities worldwide.

In response, Dr. Carter should articulate to the public that China will serve as DOD’s pacing threat and that DOD’s recently unveiled Third Offset Strategy will seek to counter Chinese capability, just as the First and Second Offset Strategies countered Soviet capabilities. While many of the activities of the Third Offset Strategy should be classified, two key indices can serve as palpable indicators of progress. First, whether funding is reapportioned from the Army to the departments most relevant in a conflict with China: the Air Force and the Navy. Dr. Carter will have the Fiscal Year 2017 budget to do so. Secondly, within the Services, DOD must adequately fund and accelerate programs relevant in the most operationally stressing scenarios involving China. In many cases, these are crucial capabilities that the Services have been slow to develop for a variety of reasons. For instance, for the Navy, the ability to rapidly reload weapons while underway at sea; for the Air Force, a credible effort to harden and disperse airfields throughout the Western and Central Pacific; and, for the Army, the development of conventional intermediate-range offensive missiles similar to those currently fielded by China (and possibly Russia).

Dr. Carter’s second priority should be advocating for the nation to return defense spending to pre-sequestration levels. Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned that allowing sequestration to happen would be like, “Shooting ourselves in the head.” The Department’s own Quadrennial Defense Review warned that, under sequestration-level cuts, risks to our nation “would grow significantly.” After these cuts took place, DOD slashed readiness and force structure in order to preserve a modicum of modernization funding. This has resulted in an increasingly hollow force incapable of appropriately facing the nation’s increased scale of threats in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the Western Pacific. While increased funding for DOD alone is insufficient, it is perhaps Dr. Carter’s most challenging priority given a seeming lack of interest and will in Congress and the White House.

His third priority should be ensuring DOD funds are spent efficiently. The dramatic rise in DOD overhead costs, such as pay, benefits, and bases, is crowding out funding available for warfighting. This is producing a military that is better compensated than ever before, but dangerously unprepared for a major war. Dr. Carter must convince the President and Congress to enact significant military compensation reform and a new round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). The opening of hearings on the congressionally-mandated Commission on Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization represents a bipartisan opportunity for Congress to take action against spiraling personnel costs. As with a new round of BRAC, Congress will need to demonstrate bipartisan leadership to overcome pressure from interest groups, allay the concerns of current and retired military members, and enact these essential reforms.

The security challenges facing our nation are numerous and unrelenting, not the least of which is continued combat in Afghanistan. With only two years in office, it is unlikely Dr. Carter will be able to reform the entire defense enterprise and address every threat. However, by focusing on these three priorities, he can surprise skeptics and set the DOD on the right course to appropriately providing for our nation’s defense.

Timothy A. Walton is a principal of Alios Consulting Group, a Washington, DC-based defense and business strategy consultancy. He specializes in Asia-Pacific security dynamics.

Hagel’s Sequestration Speech: A Warning, Not a Plan

There is no other hand...
There is no other hand…

Before his appointment as U.S. Secretary of Defense, concerns existed that Chuck Hagel was a proponent of the massive cuts envisioned for the DoD as part of Sequestration. With his Statement on Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR) (31/07/13), the Secretary has made it very clear that he is no bedfellow of austerity.

Followers of security policy have already drawn out two possible paths from the Secretary’s words. However, the real thrust of the speech was that these were not options, as he sums up in his closing:

The inescapable conclusion is that letting sequester-level cuts persist would be a huge strategic miscalculation that would not be in our country’s best interests…


It is the responsibility of our nation’s leaders to work together to replace the mindless and irresponsible policy of sequestration.  It is unworthy of the service and sacrifice of our nation’s men and women in uniform and their families.  And even as we confront tough fiscal realities, our decisions must always be worthy of the sacrifices we ask America’s sons and daughters to make for our country.”

At multiple points within his piece, the Secretary reiterates that Sequestration cuts are not only damaging, but roughly impossible:

The review showed that the “in-between” budget scenario we evaluated would “bend” our defense strategy in important ways, and sequester-level cuts would “break” some parts of the strategy, no matter how the cuts were made.  Under sequester-level cuts, our military options and flexibility will be severely constrained…


Unlike the private sector, the federal government, and the Defense Department in particular – simply does not have the option of quickly shutting down excess facilities, eliminating entire organizations and operations, or shutting massive numbers of employees – at least not in a responsible, moral, and legal way…


In closing, one of the most striking conclusions of the Strategic Choices and Management Review is that if DoD combines all the reductions I’ve described, including significant cuts to the military’s size and capability – the savings fall well short of meeting sequester-level cuts, particularly during the first five years of these steep, decade-long reductions.”

That is to say, even if we break the back of our armed forces, we still fall short of the required austerity. The original intent of Sequestration, as an “impossible scenario,” is unfortunately coming to pass – not in possibility but in functionality.

The reality is that the real portion from which the cuts must come is the compensation that consumes “roughly half of the DoD budget,” but even then…

The efficiencies in compensation reforms identified in the review – even the most aggressive changes – still leave DoD some $350 billion to $400 billion short of the $500 billion in cuts required by sequestration over the next ten years.  The review had to take a hard look at changes to our force structure and modernization plans.”

The most worrisome reality check laid down by the Secretary is that if Sequestration is not rescinded for DoD, the reforms suggested will require the agreement of a recalcitrant Congress that was more than willing to execute Sequestration, but unwilling to bear the political consequences of the actions they’ve forced. Most likely, that scenario will only lead us deeper down the strategically damaging rabbit-hole:

These shortfalls will be even larger if Congress is unwilling to enact changes to compensation or adopt other management reforms and infrastructure cuts we’ve proposed in our Fiscal Year 2014 budget.  Opposition to these proposals must be engaged and overcome, or we will be forced to take even more draconian steps in the future.”

The Secretary has not, through the SCMR’s response to Sequestration, put down a viable plan for the future. He has set down a warning of what is to come. Let us hope that warning is heeded.

Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy.  The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity.  They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Who’ll get the Lion’s share?

In the last week, during a visit to the People’s Republic of China, Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng En Hen has reaffirmed bilateral military ties between the two countries with his Chinese counterpart, Liang Guanglie. Since the Agreement on Defence Exchanges and Security Cooperation was signed in 2008, there have been regular exchanges between the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the People’s Liberation Army, port calls, joint courses, seminars, and a counter-terrorism exercise. But China is not the only suitor trying to woo the Lion City-state. Earlier this month, Mr Ng also met with US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, with the two agreeing that America could deploy up to four Littoral Combat Ships out of Singapore on a rotational basis, with the first due to arrive in the second quarter of next year. In addition, its Changi naval base was designed from the outset to accommodate ships up to the size of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, way beyond the country’s own capabilities. With China becoming increasingly assertive towards its neighbours in the first island chain it see as its sphere of influence, followed by America’s pivot towards Asia in support of its regional allies and the advent of Air-Sea Battle to meet the Chinese threat, Singapore may be forced to choose between its two military partners.

Singapore’s Formidable-class stealth frigates – but which side could they end up on?

Though Singapore’s military relationship with the US stretches back further, the country has always had an ethnocentric strategic outlook. At the time of its secession from the Federation of Malaysia on 9 August 1965, Singapore only possessed around 1,000 armed servicemen. This and the republic’s small population of approximately four million, prompted Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to introduce national service from 14 March 1967. Another major factor behind this was that the majority of those personnel, particularly senior officers, we’re Malay and Indian. With Singapore having a Chinese majority population, and with Malaysia seen as the country’s main threat at the time, Malays were excluded from the draft for its first ten years as Chinese filled out the armed forces’ ranks and were swiftly promoted. Even when Malays were included after 1977, they were assigned to the police and civil defence, not combat roles. The Second Minister for Defence, Lee Hsien Loong, stated in 1987 that “If there is a conflict, if the SAF is called to defend the homeland, we do not want to put any of our soldiers in a difficult position where his emotions for the nation may be in conflict with his religion”. Singapore’s political leaders did not trust Malays to fight against their kith and kin. Should hostilities erupt between the United States and China, can Singapore’s Chinese-dominated armed forces be expected to do the same, and does America need to think more carefully about how far it enters into the Lion’s den?

Dr Daniel Owen Spence is Lecturer in Imperial and International History at Sheffield Hallam University, United Kingdom, and publishes on nineteenth and twentieth century maritime history.