The Navy’s 27–21 victory in last month’s annual Army-Navy game, the tenth straight win for the Midshipmen, isn’t the only way Navy is beating Army these days. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s new military budget proposal envisions extensive downsizing in the Army, from its current 570,000 to a much leaner 490,000; the Navy, meanwhile, gets to keep all 11 of its aircraft carriers. The New York Times reports:
Military experts familiar with Mr. Panetta’s thinking said that Mr. Obama had opposed reducing the American carrier fleet to 10 from 11 because of what he sees as the need to have enough force in the Pacific Ocean to act as a counterweight to China.
America’s attention is slowly shifting away from the Middle East and towards the Great Game in Asia, as evidenced by Obama’s high-profile initiatives involving, among others, Japan, India and Australia. This is good news for the Navy. In Iraq and landlocked Afghanistan, ground forces and air power were key, leaving the Navy to play a supporting role. Now the tables are turning.Via Meadia is withholding judgment on these cuts for now. The devil is often in the details. There is certainly fat in the Pentagon budget; the end of combat in Iraq also creates a chance for savings. Pentagon pension and health care programs need to be reviewed and updated, and it is possible that greater differentiation could be made in terms of compensation and benefits between combat forces and lifetime desk jockeys. As more detail comes out on this story, it will be possible to see just how risky or how smart the strategy is.Sea power, and its close relatives in air and space, remain critical for American power and in general, the decision to spare the Navy deep cuts makes sense. Some threats in space and cyberspace appear to be growing; China and several other powers are looking for ways to counter US supremacy without matching our full buildup. That means an embrace of disruptive technological innovation; we need to stay on top of that, and this kind of ability does not come cheap. Via Meadia has its doubts about how long the Age of the Aircraft Carrier will last. Carriers have been supreme at sea since World War II; technological advance is likely to ring the curtain down on aircraft carriers sooner rather than later. In general we are less interested in cutting the military budget than in reallocating funds within it. The US cannot be doing too much R&D for our taste, and this applies to all branches of the armed forces.It would be a shame if penny pinching and stand pat Pentagon inertia led the US to neglect the investments in new technologies that can maintain and increase our qualitative lead in so many branches of military technology. We aren’t saying that’s what the new Pentagon budget plan does, but we are saying that that is the standard against which any defense plan needs to be judged.