* Hagel cites "budgetary and strategic uncertainty"
* Pentagon struggling to cut $46 billion this year
* Review due to be completed by end of May
By David Alexander
WASHINGTON, March 18 Defense Secretary Chuck
Hagel has directed senior Pentagon officials to re-examine the
U.S. military strategy approved last year to see how priorities
may need to be adjusted due to budget cuts that took effect on
March 1, U.S. officials said.
The decision, made on Friday, comes as the Pentagon
struggles to cut $46 billion from this year's defense budget and
faces the prospect of an additional $50 billion per year in
reductions for the next nine years.
"The Department of Defense must constantly examine the
choices that underlie our defense strategy, posture and
investments, including all past assumptions and systems," Hagel
said in a memorandum obtained on Monday by Reuters.
"This will be especially important in the period ahead, as
both budgetary and strategic uncertainty affect our planning. We
must think and act ahead of this uncertainty and not in reaction
to it," he said in the memo, which was dated on Friday.
Underscoring the uncertainty facing the department, the
Congressional Budget Office warned on Monday that the Pentagon's
future plans - submitted last year before the recent budget cuts
took effect - would "exceed the funding allowed ... by a large
The Pentagon would need about $550 billion a year for its
five-year plan submitted in 2013, about $21 billion more each
year than its initial estimates and $74 billion a year more than
it was likely to get after the March 1 cuts, the CBO said.
In his memo, Hagel asked senior Pentagon officials to define
for him the major strategic choices and institutional challenges
facing the U.S. military in the decade ahead and what it must do
A senior Pentagon official said the review was not a "fresh
start toward a new strategy," but would flow directly from the
strategic guidance approved by President Barack Obama last year,
which calls for a shift in emphasis to the Asia-Pacific region.
"The department hopes never to have to work toward the
contingencies this review might identify," the official said. If
the budget cuts, under a process known as sequestration, are
lifted, "those contingencies are likely to go away," the
The review, which is due by the end of May, will frame the
secretary's guidance for the 2015 fiscal year budget and be the
foundation for the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, a
congressionally mandated assessment of the major strategic
choices and challenges facing the U.S. military.
Defense officials have become increasingly vocal in recent
weeks about the need to re-examine the defense strategy as it
has become clear that Congress and the White House may be unable
to reach a deal to avert $500 billion in defense cuts over the
The defense strategy approved in January 2012 called for a
shift in strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region following
more than a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The new
strategy coincided with the implementation of $487 billion in
cuts to the defense budget over a decade that began last year.
SECOND ROUND OF CUTS
The strategy did not take into account a second round of
$500 billion in budget cuts that went into effect on March 1.
Defense officials had hoped that Congress and the White House
would agree to a deal to avert those cuts, but a compromise
Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, said in a Facebook post last week that as a result of the
long-term uncertainty posed by the budget cuts, he had "begun to
reassess what our military strategy should be."
Speaking on Monday at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies, a Washington think tank, Dempsey said he
did not know if the defense strategy would have to change much
as a result of the continuing budget cuts.
"But I predict it will," he said. "We'll need to relook our
assumptions and need to adjust our ambitions to match our
abilities. And that means doing less, but not doing less well."
Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale told a conference last week
that with $50 billion in spending reductions a year increasingly
likely in 2014 and beyond, what the department most needed was a
strategy that fit the likely resources available.
"We ... understand that we're probably not going to get the
current level of defense resources," Hale said. "And so if there
are to be substantial additional cuts, what we ask for is time
to redo this strategy. We need to reconsider it so that we have
a blueprint that's consistent with whatever level of resources
we are likely to get."
Defense analysts have been urging the Pentagon to reconsider
its strategy, noting that efforts to slash the U.S. budget
deficits and the huge federal debt meant that further spending
cuts were likely, making current strategy unaffordable.
A group of five former deputy defense secretaries urged
Hagel in a letter earlier this month to conduct a thorough
review of all aspects of Pentagon strategy, capabilities and
budget to create a new long-term defense posture.