The Pentagon's budget axe fell hard today, and Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) found its head squarely on the chopping block.
As part of his $100-billion austerity campaign, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced this afternoon that JFCOM will be shuttered in the coming years, eliminating some 5,000 military, civil service and contractor positions. Gates announced that two smaller DoD organizations will also be targeted for closure, but the names of those units were not disclosed.
From the AP account:
Gates said Monday that tough economic times require that he shutter a major command that employs some 5,000 people around Norfolk, Va., and begin to eliminate other jobs throughout the military.
The announcement was the first major step by Gates to find $100 billion in savings in the next five years. Gates says that money is needed elsewhere within the Defense Department to repair a force ravaged by years of war and to prepare troops for the next fight.
Gates and other Pentagon officials would not put a dollar figure on cuts outlined Monday, but the savings is expected to be less than what the individual military services are trying to trim on their own.
Political reaction in the Old Dominion was swift--and predictable. Officials from both sides of the aisle immediately condemned the move, saying it made little military or economic sense.
Republican Representative. J. Randy Forbes called the decision "further evidence of this administration allowing its budget for social change" and the "piecemeal auctioning off of the greatest military the world has ever known."
Democrats, including Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb of Virginia, also condemned the move. Warner said he could see "no rational basis" for eliminating a command created to improve the services' ability to work together and find efficiencies.
"In the business world, you sometimes have to spend money in order to save money," said Warner.
Still, the Virginia Congressional delegation will face an uphill battle in trying to save JFCOM. Listed as one of ten unified combatant commands in the U.S. military , JFCOM doesn't really have a war-fighting mission. Instead, Joint Forces Command has concentrated on the transformation of the U.S. military, and (to a lesser extent) that of its NATO partners. And, through such components as Air Combat Command (USAF) and the Forces Commands of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, JFCOM provides combatant forces to commanders in the field. In reality, that "provider" role was little more than another layer of bureaucracy; ACC and the forces commands had been providing war-fighting assets long before JFCOM arrived on the scene.
In an era of looming defense cuts, DoD simply doesn't need a muti-billion dollar organization to handle transformation and add another layer of command in force provision. Indeed, given the current budget climate, JFCOM's demise was only a matter of time. Now the real question becomes: what happens to the billions saved by eliminating the Norfolk-based command? Dr. Gates has suggested that some of the money might be re-invested in the Navy's ship-building program, a move that would (potentially) return billions to Virginia.
But don't hold your breath. Our fleet is already under-sized (in comparison to the Navy's global responsibilities), and shows no signs of growing larger. In fact, Secretary Gates recently observed that the U.S. military is "over-matched" against potential competitors, suggesting that the number of Navy carrier groups would be downsized as well. Fewer carriers means fewer escort vessels, and less support infrastructure ashore. Put another way: if the Navy of the future will operate with fewer carriers, it will almost certainly have a smaller ship-building budget, and there will be less work for the three major yards (Bath Iron Works; Ingalls, and Newport News) that build most of our military vessels.
In reality, the money "saved" by closing JFCOM will go towards entitlement programs, including that fiscal black hole called national health care. Hmmm...maybe they can convert the command's headquarters building into the nation's largest free clinic.