The great myth about our ongoing defense drawdown is it is designed to make possible a “pivot to the Pacific.” This is only true in the sense that the Navy and Air Force–the primary services concerned with a future Pacific conflict–are being cut less than the Army and Marine Corps, upon whom we have depended to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past decade.
The ground forces are losing more than 100,000 troopers. The air and naval forces are not making such drastic cutbacks, but they are cutting back just the same, as this article in the San Diego Union Tribune notes: “The Navy is cutting nearly 3,000 mid-career troops in a first-of-its-kind layoff this year, made necessary by record-high re-enlistment.” In other words, petty officers who had been looking forward to a 20+-year career, as is standard, are now being sent to the unemployment line after only 10 or so years of service–this at a time of high unemployment. As the article notes, this is part of an ongoing reduction of the Navy’s ranks. In 2006, it had 359,373 personnel; today it has 325,700; by 2014 it is due to be down to 320,000.
This personnel downsizing has been accompanied by a downsizing in the fleet. The Navy today is down to 282 ships, the lowest level since before World War II, and is likely to wind up during this decade with just 246 ships. As retired Marine Lt. Gen. Chip Gregson notes, “This is important because no matter how capable the ship, it can only be in one place at a time. And power projection that stays is about ships.”
Meanwhile, as Richard Cleary and Tom Donnelly note, the new defense budget is also reducing our acquisition of the F-35 Lightning, the essential fifth-generation fighter we need to keep up with China: “The Obama Pentagon has reduced the 2013 purchase of Lightnings from 42 to 29 and reduced the planned five-year buy by more than 100 aircraft.”
Pacific pivot? Hardly. More like an across-the-board disarmament that is proceeding at varied rates in different services and different parts of the world.