Wednesday, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter gave a talk to the American Enterprise Institute, the conservative think tank that develops an immense amount of defense policy in D.C.
While he was there and speaking to a room full of defense insiders, wonks, academics and professionals, Carter opened up about the future of the Department of Defense, specifically what's getting the axe with recent budget cuts, which branches are getting slimmed, where the United States is concentrating its military power, and — the biggest question on everyone's mind — what the Department of Defense is going to do after we leave Afghanistan.
Here are the biggest takeaways.
Remember after the debt ceiling debacle last summer, when Congress enacted mandatory, across the board cuts in Defense because an agre... Well, the DoD is so certain that none of that will happen, they're not even preparing for the cuts. Even more, Carter told the AEI that unless the Office of Management and Budget directs them to make plans for the cuts later this summer, they really don't plan to. The DoD is just that confident that the cuts are bull.
This one isn't exactly a crowd-pleaser for the AEI, but Carter said that with Defense cuts coming up — these cuts unrelated to the sequester, just typical postwar budget contraction — nothing is safe. The DoD will review most of its programs, some existing since the Cold War, for budget constriction and cuts. While this sounds like typical budget-hawk lingo, Carter dwelled on this point for a while, and later backed it up with significant examples of material cuts on actual programs.
Carter confirmed what most of us already know, that the DoD intends to move the United States armed forces into the Pacific in a huge way. But he did give huge details. The Navy is actually going to expand despite the cuts, and the Deputy Secretary says that the DoD is shifting its Naval presence to the Pacific. While cuts continue back east, the Air Force will see no cuts in Tactical Air support in the Asia-Pacific region. While the Marine Corps will significantly shrink overall, Carter said that there would be "no reduction in Marine Corps present west of the international date line," plus a new rotation in Australia.
One rule on what to cut came directly from President Obama him self; Don't cut things just because they are new and thus easier to cut. Carter said that this mentality means that things like cyber, special operations forces, unmanned systems (think drones), and space initiatives should not be cut because they were recent additions with shallow roots. In fact, Carter said, those actually came out ahead after cuts.