Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is saddled with being the bearer of bad news these days, stopping in Charleston recently and letting military personnel know that furloughs, which have forced a 20 percent pay cut on most of the military’s civilian workforce, will probably continue next year, and it might get worse.
Future layoffs are also possible for the department’s civilian workforce of more than 800,000 employees, Hagel said, if Congress fails to stem the cuts in the next budget year, which starts Oct. 1.
The Great Recession that gripped much of the nation took its time trickling down to the military ranks. Forces grew by 3 percent, and the civilian personnel supporting those soldiers swelled by 14 percent in the past decade. But now a new reality has set in: With the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq winding down, a reduction in personnel – particularly senior civilians and top brass – is on deck.
President Barack Obama’s administration has touted the need for a leaner military, one that is less top-heavy and more focused on the task of defending the country and its interests in a new post Iraq/Afghanistan world. With a government that is mired in bureaucratic inertia and faced with a $16.7 trillion debt, Washington is preparing a deep slim-down of the military.
The problem with military cuts is how to trim the fat while sparing the muscle, but as it is with far too many programs inside the beltway, there is plenty of fat ripe for removal. One such program the Pentagon would be wise to evaluate is the necessity of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters that are estimated to cost potentially $1.5 trillion to develop, buy and operate over several decades. With 2,500 on order, it is the lone fighter in the pipeline for our military. But it is also the most expensive weapons development program in history, one that has been riddled with cost and schedule overruns alongside unforeseen engineering and design issues.
No one wants to cut corners when it comes to our nation’s security, but the question lingers of just how much a leaner military will use – or need – the fifth-generation fighters.