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Carter: Pacific Pivot Safe From Sequester

Ash Carter

The U.S. will find a way to press ahead with the major military shift to the Pacific despite shrinking budgets and Congressional gridlock on funding, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Monday.

When asked how the $41 billion cut to the Defense Department’s budget under the sequestration process will affect the rebalance towards Asia, Carter said simply: “It won’t.”

“We have the resources to accomplish the rebalance. The rebalance will continue and in fact gain momentum” as the war in Afghanistan winds down, Carter said in an address to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The U.S. defense rebalance to the Pacific is not in jeopardy.”

Asian allies should be assured that the U.S. “will walk the walk” on the Pacific pivot that is projected to re-align forces over the next 10 years, with 60 percent of assets eventually focused on Asia, Carter said.

To bolster his argument, Carter made what appeared to be a political leap of faith in suggesting that the House, the Senate and the White House will somehow reach a compromise and agree to stop the sequester process at the end of the current Fiscal Year on Sept. 30. Under sequester, the Defense Department would have to cut about $500 billion over the next 10 years on top of $487 billion worth of cuts that are already underway.

Carter said that sequester “was never intended to be implemented. Hopefully, the turmoil and the gridlock will end” in September.

Carter’s assessment jibed with the Defense Department budget that will be proposed on Wednesday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who reportedly also is counting on sequester ending in September.

The drawdown in Afghanistan and the ending of the Iraq war have already allowed the rebalance to Asia to get underway, Carter said. Army and Marine units based in the Pacific, which had constantly been called upon to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, “are coming home to the Pacific,” Carter said.

The Navy’s 10-destroyer presence in the Mediterranean and the Middle East was being reduced to four destroyers based at Rota, Spain, which will focus on the missile defense of Europe, Carter said. The other six destroyers will go to the Pacific, he said. The first Littoral Combat Ship will arrive at its new homeport in Singapore later this month as the precursor to the eventual basing there of four of the new LCS vessels, Carter said.

The Air Force was also shifting MQ-9 Reapers, Global Hawks, and U-2 spy planes away from Afghanistan and to the Pacific, Carter said.

Carter’s upbeat assessment on the long-term impacts of sequester on the Pacific pivot contrasted with his earlier statements on its overall effects for the Defense Department.

In January, Carter put out a memo directing the services to freeze civilian hiring, stop temporary hires, cut base operating funds, curtail training and limit administrative expenses.

Last month, he warned the defense industry that sequester will stretch out programs and drive up unit costs for as many as 2,500 individual programs.

“The act of sequestration and longer-term budget cuts and the prolongation of uncertainty could limit capital market confidence in the defense industry,” Carter said at the McAleese/Credit Suisse Defense Programs Conference in Washington. He predicted that “companies may be less willing to make internal investments in their defense portfolios.”

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