Budget Super Committee, friend or foe of Defense Department?
The Pentagon Photo By: CNN's John Bodnar
August 12th, 2011
06:52 AM ET

Budget Super Committee, friend or foe of Defense Department?

By Pentagon Producer Larry Shaughnessy

The final three members of the 12-member so-called "super committee" on deficit reduction were announced Thursday, but there are not a slew of pro-defense lawmakers on the panel charged with tackling the next stage of the national debt debate.

Two are well-known supporters of defense issues, but only one of the 12 is a member of an armed services committee.

Aviation Week magazine's website pointed out, "despite the hopes of U.S. defense industry advocates to stave off steep cuts to the Pentagon, the military-minded have scant representation" on the committee.

Should that be a cause for concern in the halls of the Pentagon?

CNN asked if Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had any reaction to the make up of the committee. Spokesman Bryan Whitman said Panetta was out of the building Thursday but referred to what Panetta said to reporters in a recent briefing.

"I'm going to give Congress the opportunity to have this committee work," Panetta said on August 4, before any super committee members were named.

He said then he hoped "this committee will exercise their responsibility to look at other areas of the budget." Panetta went on to say that Congress needs to consider higher taxes - "You also have to look at revenues as part of that answer."

The super committee is charged with finding $1.5 trillion in cuts or tax increases in the overall budget, which could result in deeper defense cuts. And if the committee can't reach an agreement by late November, the debt deal calls for "sequestration;" that is, mandatory across-the-board reductions that would mean $500 billion in defense cuts.

The Democrats on the committee from the House are Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Xavier Becerra of California. Republicans are represented by Jeb Hensarling of Texas, Dave Camp of Michigan and Fred Upton of Michigan.

On the Senate side, Democrats are Patty Murray of Washington, who is a big supporter of Boeing, one of the nation's major defense contractors, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Max Baucus of Montana.

Republicans are Rob Portman of Ohio, a new member of the Armed Services Committee but likely chosen for his budget expertise rather than defense ties, Jon Kyl of Arizona, a vocal pro-defense advocate and Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania.

James Carafano is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and an expert in defense issues at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington. He's worried about defense cuts.

"The Defense Department is already on the ropes before we even had this discussion," Carafano said, referring to nearly $400 billion in defense cuts recently mandated as part of the agreement to raise the debt ceiling.

But he doesn't believe the committee members are the most important indicator of future defense spending. "I think it's very difficult to just look at the make-up of the committee and their backgrounds and say it's good for this or bad for that," he said.

Carafano said congressional leaders, voters and other will be able to pressure the committee members.

Winslow Wheeler is on the opposite end of the defense budget debate from Carafano, but on one thing they agree. "The super high DoD spending hawks didn't have to be on this committee to get the message to be sure to protect the defense department from the cuts," Wheeler said.

Wheeler is a veteran of 31 years on Capitol Hill and at the Government Accounting Office dealing with national security issues. He's now director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information. He is a staunch advocate for changing the way the Pentagon does business.

"What I expect will happen is that the committee will come to some form of agreement of additional budget savings, including entitlements and a change in revenues and some second batch of cuts for DoD," Wheeler said. "It's very unclear what form and size that second bunch of cuts will come."

Carafano doesn't believe the final answers will come from the super committee, which has to make a decision by Thanksgiving or deeper, automatic cuts could kick in.

"I don't think anybody truly believes that they are going to sit down through this super committee," Carafano said, "and that they're actually going to come up with a long-range 10-year plan to solve anything." Carafano believes the real answers will come after the voters make their feelings known in the 2012 election.


Filed under: Congress • Kerry • Military • Panetta • Secretary of Defense
soundoff (6 Responses)
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    July 17, 2012 at 9:25 am | Reply
  2. Lutfi

    In reaction to today’s oannuncement of the failure of the congressional “debt super committee,” Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., President of the Center for Security Policy and founding member of the Coalition for the Common Defense made the following statement:“Today’s oannuncement by the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction of its inability to reach agreement on a plan to address the nation’s mounting debt is a dereliction of duty, all-too reflective of a dysfunctional federal government that insists on denying its obvious problem: out-of-control spending. The Joint Committee’s failure will now trigger the fall-back mechanism of last summer’s debt legislation: “sequestration.” We now face an imminent danger to our national security. Our military is already struggling to absorb $450 billion in cuts. Sequestration will add another $600 billion of mandatory cuts to our national defense. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has rightly described this level of cuts as “shooting ourselves in the head.” The American people, by an overwhelming 82% margin in the recent POLITICO-Battleground poll, have soundly rejected further cuts to our national defense. Zero cuts have been taken from entitlements; almost half a trillion in cuts have been taken from our national defense. We will be left with a severely weakened military used to confront an increasingly assertive China, resurgent Russia, and unstable Middle East, including a nuclear Iran. The first duty of our government under the Constitution is to ‘provide for the common defense.’ Americans are insisting that Washington hear that message. Sequestration must not be allowed to compromise our national security.”

    March 4, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Reply
  3. ficheye

    It's interesting how the article posted by Rajeev finally gets around to blaming the military cuts on Obama. The military has been out of control for years and years, wasting money on failed projects, even outside of the DARPA projects. Efficiency has never been the strong point of the military. Add to that the failed interactivity of the NSA and the CIA and we have a largely dysfunctional military apparatus, fighting wars that need not be fought, but not resisting because of the need to keep or fighters and flyers hot. No, it's not Obama's fault. A lot of things are, but this isn't one of them.

    August 15, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Reply
  4. rajeev

    $1 trillion F-35 Grounded
    Last week we told you about mechanical problems with the Air Force's F-22 and now the F-35 have been grounded as well. Lockheed Martin's other aviation project, has reported electrical and engine problems during ground testing. Twenty F-35s have reached flying status but until all the glitches are worked out the Air Force says that the planes aren't moving. The 35's are quite the investment, at 90 million dollars a piece but when you add in maintenance figures the total estimated cost of the F-35s comes to $1 trillion.

    August 13, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Reply
  5. rajeev

    Grounded Stealth Fighter Jocks Could Lose Clearance to Fly

    The U.S. Air Force’s most advanced stealth fighters have been grounded for so long that pilots of the F-22 Raptors are starting to run the risk of being disqualified from flying their assigned planes.

    Air Force requires pilots to fly a certain number of sorties in their aircraft every month, in order to stay fresh. If they don’t fly for 210 days, the pilots lose their “currency,” as it’s known in military jargon. Then, they have to be retrained on their jets, nearly from scratch.

    Ordinarily, that’s a problem for an individual pilot when he gets sick, goes on leave, or takes a desk job somewhere. But now, the Air Force is facing the possibility of it happening to hundreds of their very best fighter pilots. And no amount of time in a flight simulator can fix that; fighter jocks need to fly in real cockpits to stay qualified.

    “Today’s simulator visuals are quite good, but nothing can truly replicate the physiological difficulties of long range visual pick-up of tactical aircraft or ground targets in the ‘real’ world,” Air Combat Command spokeswoman Capt. Jennifer Ferrau tells Danger Room.

    The entire fleet of F-22 Raptors — the world’s most advanced dogfighters — has been grounded since May 3, after problems were discovered with the planes’ oxygen systems. So, too, is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter fleet, which means that every stealth fighter in the U.S. inventory is currently out of commission.

    The F-35s, at least, are expected to resume testing shortly. No one’s quite sure when the 165 Raptors (and their pilots) are coming back.

    Instead of pumping in pure air, the F-22 was feeding its pilots lungloads of dangerous chemicals.

    “Toxins found in pilots’ blood include oil fumes, residue from burned polyalphaolefin (PAO) antifreeze, and, in one case, propane,” reports Air Force Times’ Dave Majumdar. 14 pilots suffered “hypoxia-like symptoms.”

    Some are even blaming the oxygen system in the fatal crash of an F-22 in November.

    All of which means that Raptor pilots are stuck on the ground until further notice.

    “The guys are getting antsy,” Lt. Col. Jason Hinds, director of operations for the 27th Fighter Squadron, told the Daily Press of Newport News, Virginia, last month.

    Time in the simulator doesn’t relieve the stir-craziness. For one thing, it doesn’t resolve the pilots’ currency issues, Ferrau notes in an e-mail. Unlike commercial pilots, Air Force fighter jocks can’t use simulated takeoffs and landings to keep them current.

    “The simulator is a controlled environment, while live fly includes the stress of heat, sweat, vibration, G force, blinding sun, motion of three-dimensional flight, uncertainties while flying in a crowded airspace and maybe most important — mortality,” she says. “You can run out of fuel and put the sim on ‘freeze’ but you cannot stop live flight to avoid a dangerous situation.”

    Also, the waiting list to get into an F-22 simulator is getting rather long. There are only two Raptor sim complexes — one at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, the other in Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. Each complex has four ersatz cockpits. Pilots from as far away from Alaska and Hawaii are coming to the East Coast to use the facilities.

    “For the next three months, we’ve got people booked to come here to operate in our simulators,” Capt. Travis Passey, training flight commander in the Operational Support Squadron, told the Daily Press.

    Restoring currency to the Raptor pilot cadre could take months, once it’s lost. First, instructor pilots will have to re-qualify, through a combination of ground trial, test flights and time in an Air Force classroom. Then, they’d train a small number of pilots, who would get the others up to speed.

    It’s not the first time the Air Force has faced a currency issue; in 2007 and 2008, previously undiscovered manufacturing errors kept 182 early model F-15s on the shelves.

    But the F-22’s woes are part of a larger issue facing the military, one House Republican aide said. “The real problem is the effect all these defense cuts have on technical military training,” he notes.

    “The Navy uses simulators in place of machines. It’s turned into a boondoggle. The Air Force is now having to rely more on simulators, too,” he said. “If you have only one simulator in say, a National Guard unit, how can you practice formation flying? Precision strike? This is where Obama’s defense cuts are killing us: military training and readiness.”

    Perhaps. But, at the moment, losing the world’s most advanced and expensive fighter jets — priced at $411 million each, including R&D costs — isn’t exactly inhibiting the U.S. military as it fights wars around the globe.

    The Air Force decided long ago to keep the F-22 out of Iraq and Afghanistan. The jet has also been missing from the air assault of Libya: there are no Raptors based in Europe, and the F-22 doesn’t have the ability to transmit data to other aircraft — only to other Raptors.

    Even when it’s in the sky, this most evolved of jets is notable for its limitations.

    Photo: USAF

    wired danger room

    August 13, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Reply

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