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Prez Panel Wants $100B DoD Cut; Freeze Pay, Kill F-35B, EFV

UPDATED: AIA Head Expresses "Grave Concerns"

The presidential commission charged with coming up with ways to slash the federal deficit looks likely to recommend $100 billion in cuts to the Pentagon budget.

A draft of the commission's recommendations was posted on the commission's website Wednesday afternoon. It is portrayed as the recommendations of the panel's co-chairs, former GOP Senator Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, who served as President Clinton's  chief of staff.

The head of the defense industry's top pressure group, the Aerospace Industries Association, said the panel's recommendations raise "grave concerns." With a clear eye on the Tea Party, Marion Blakey said "the highest constitutional responsibility of the federal government is to protect the American people from foreign aggression..." She added that "history provides all too many examples where cuts to defense spending were followed by the rise of a threat that we were unprepared to meet."

First, the co-chairs say the $100 billion in savings Defense Secretary Robert Gates wanted to plow back into the military over five years want this money to come out of defense budget instead of being applied elsewhere, as Gates plans to do. "Currently, the savings are to be reallocated to force structure and modernization. If these savings were applied to deficit reduction instead, we could save $28 billion in 2015," the panel says in its draft.

The panel's hottest defense proposal is to freeze noncombat military pay for three years, something Congress will find very difficult to swallow. Here['s what the panel says: "Regular Military Compensation (excluding combat pay) for military personnel, which includes basic pay, basic allowances for housing and subsistence, and federal income tax advantages that go along with the allowances, is expected to grow by $9.2 billion from 2011 to 2015. A three-year freeze at 2011 levels for these compensation categories would save the federal government $7.6 billion in compensation and tax expenditures, as well as another $1.6 billion in less retirement accrual, or $9.2 billion total discretionary savings in 2015."

The panel also wants a freeze on federal salaries for DoD personnel. It calls for doubling the number of contractors -- reducing them from 67,000 to 30,600 -- who should be cut from the Pentagon budget.

Add to that the somewhat extraordinary idea that  personnel at overseas bases should be summarily cut by one third. "Reducing this presence by one-third would save around $8.5 billion in 2015, while still maintaining a substantial military force on both continents," the chairs claim.

Overall, procurement accounts are targeted for $20 billion in cuts, a 15 percent whack; RDT and E accounts come in for a 7 percent whack.

Here's the programmatic hit list:

Slash the Air Force and Navy's F-35 buy by half and buy F-16s and F/A-18s instead. "This option would buy half as many as the 369 planned for the Air Force and the 311 for the Navy, purchasing instead the current generation fighter aircraft, the Air Force F-16 aircraft at one-third of the cost and the Navy F/A- 18E/F at two-thirds of the cost of the F-35," the panel's co-chairmen argue.

Cancel the Marine's F-35B. "In its recent defense review, the United Kingdom decided to cancel its buy of the Marine Corps version of the JSF. Further, the sophisticated capabilities of the JSF may be less relevant in current scenarios. Under Secretary of the Navy Robert Workman observed that greater use of guided missiles and mortar could end the forward operations that would be performed by the Marine Corps JSF because of vulnerability.93 Also, because the Marine Corps version of the JSF has been responsible for most of the technical, cost, and schedule problems, canceling it could accelerate delivery of the Air Force (F- 35A) and Navy (F-35C) versions," they argue.

Stop buying more Marine Ospreys.” The proposed change to terminate acquisition of V-22 at 288 aircraft, close to two-thirds of the planned buy, would substitute MH-60 helicopters to meet missions that require less range and speed, and could save $1.1 billion in 2015, the panel says.

Cancel the Marine's Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle to save $650 million.

Cancel the Navy’s Future Maritime Prepositioning Force. "Despite the lack of adequate ports and infrastructure, operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as various recent humanitarian efforts, have been sustained with the current mix of prepositioned ships, amphibious support and Landing Craft Air Cushion ships. Canceling the new program would save $1.0 billion in FY2015 and $2.7 billion from FY2012-FY2015," the panel chairs say.

Cancel the new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, the Ground Combat Vehicle, and the Joint Tactical Radio. This would save $2.3 billion in 2015.

Replace military personnel performing commercial activities with civilians to save $5.4 billion in 2015.

Of course, 14 of the 18 commissioners on this panel must approve the recommendations and this is the draft. And the recommendations must still make it past Congress, which has shown little appetite under the Democrats so far to make substantial cuts to defense spending. And the Republicans are in the House now. While some of the Tea Party elements seem intent on at least calling for defense cuts, the senior Republicans who are likely to run the Armed Services and Appropriations committees are unlikely to look on with defense cuts with anything much nicer than a grimace.

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