Locking down the facts on the FY15 defense budget—before Congress wades into the fight. Russ Rumbaugh and John Cappell, of the Stimson Center, have released a superb analysis of the Budget Control Act’s (“sequestration”) real impact on defense planning through FY21. Among Stimson’s findings: even the lowest projected budget ($492 billion dollars in FY16) would still fall slightly above the average of all non-war defense budgets since 1951. This would mean 27 percent more funding than in past post-war downturns. These numbers help contextualize the Pentagon’s own grim assessment released in mid-April. They also bring clarity to the likely contentious budgetary mark up and debate process now unfolding in the House Armed Services Committee.
A-10 Warthog debate: heated and getting hotter. Although Congressional opposition to the Air Force’s retirement of its fleet of 300 A-10 “Warthog” Thunderbolts has never been a secret, the debate grew more contentious this week at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, which was supposed to be focused on the findings of the Air Force Commission (of which I was a member). Senator John McCain expressed (serious) skepticism at the Air Force’s explanation that the close air support mission can be absorbed by high-altitude guided munitions. Unless the Air Force makes this argument more clearly, it will become a major flash point in upcoming Congressional debate. They can also consider releasing an updated version of the 1970s coloring book for A-10 pilots. Stay tuned for my own assessment on the Air Force’s A-10 decision.
And speaking of flash points…what about the compensation battle? Less news on this front (for now), but as Congress turns to questions of military compensation, the A-10 may end up looking like a warm-up act. If last month’s testimony by Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Michael Barrett that Marines aren’t focused on “compensation, benefits or retirement modernization” is any indication, there are many more headline-grabbing fights to come.
General Michael Flynn bids a sudden farewell at the Defense Intelligence Agency. An unexpected shake-up: General Flynn is out at the DIA, a year earlier than planned, as well as his ranking deputy. Flynn was the source of a disruptive report (some might say “heretical”) to aggressively push defense intelligence gathering out of Washington, DC, and into theater. The move is likely to spark renewed debate about the relationship between DIA and civilian intelligence services. Why was Flynn ousted? In Tom Ricks’ assessment, he was simply “Done in by the Deadwood.”
Elsewhere, in Ukraine. Not good. Ukrainian forces lose two helicopters; the interim Ukrainian government reinstates conscription. A bloody offensive into the pro-Russian city of Sloviansk is ongoing, and Russia warns of “catastrophic consequences” if Ukrainian forces do not withdraw from east Ukraine. The Washington Post has published a superb map of Russian-Ukrainian mobilizations. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s hybrid strategy has worked so well, however, that some now question whether Russia will even need its conventional troops.