Ashton Carter Talks Future Defense Cuts
Dr. Ashton Carter, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology & Logistics, addressed the Heritage Foundation today on the subject of budget cuts and efficiency initiatives. He argued that far more than simple cuts to acquisition programs would be required.
Two things are “absolutely clear to those of us charged with managing the defense enterprise,” said Carter. The first is that the era of “ever-increasing budgets” are gone and that the environment will “feel very different” to those who have “grown accustomed to a circumstance where they can always reach for more money.” The second is that the government and the taxpayer will both demand “better value for the defense dollar.”
Carter said he was confident the Department would succeed in its cost-trimming mission, for three reasons. The goals are clear, the Secretary of Defense and President both strongly support the effort, and the facts of the problem are clear. The alternative is also quite bad: broken and canceled programs, and “the erosion of tax payer confidence” in the Pentagon’s ability to spend money wisely.
He laid out a variety of areas where the Pentagon could save money. Cuts to the Zumwalt-class destroyers (DDG), the presidential helicopter, Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, and other systems had to be made, and there will “undoubtedly be more cancellations of that kind.” Acquisition per se, Carter said, is only a fraction of the total program cost; some 70 percent comes out of sustaining the equipment over the years to come, and inefficiencies would have to be found there.
“It’s easy to cut programs” because they all have a name attached to them,” Carter said, “but that’s not where the money is.” Logistics, transport, research and development, and so on are all expensive, as well. The Pentagon will also have to encourage productivity, offer incentives to suppliers, reduce barriers to entry (e.g., mountains of paperwork), etc.
Carter described the “uplift” last year — i.e., the surge into Afghanistan — as a “logistics miracle” that succeeded in deploying additional forces by August. He said the incoming spring and summer of this year will be hugely critical to the war. He also praised US forces operating in Libya, saying that they were effectively carrying out the duties assigned to them in conjunction with NATO.
Carter stated that while the cuts were important, his first priority is always supporting ongoing military operations.