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Report: Save money by avoiding long ground wars

Nov. 16, 2012 - 11:22AM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 16, 2012 - 11:22AM  |  
A soldier attached to 2nd platoon, C troop, 1st Squadron (Airborne), 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, patrols near in Logar province on October 13.
A soldier attached to 2nd platoon, C troop, 1st Squadron (Airborne), 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, patrols near in Logar province on October 13. (Munir Uz Zaman / AFP via Getty Images)
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A new report by a task force made up of former military officers and defense experts says it is possible, even with smaller budgets, to improve U.S. military capabilities — but a key to this is avoiding prolonged ground wars.

There are several key changes required to make this possible, including reducing the size of nuclear forces, reforming both compensation and deployment policies for military personnel, and making a priority of funding research into basic advancements in military capabilities rather than rushing to build every proposed new weapon, according to the report released Friday by the nonprofit and nonpartisan Stimson Center.

To do more with less, the U.S. also needs to "strongly resist being drawn into protracted land wars" and restrict ground combat deployments "to well-defined and limited objectives," says the report, A New U.S. Defense Strategy for a New Era.

"U.S. leaders should think long and hard before committing U.S. ground forces to contingencies that might lead to lengthy commitments of sizable scale, particularly when the goal is to stabilize failing states or to unseat despotic rulers," the report says. "At a minimum, the U.S. should only participate in such interventions when they have the active support of friendly states with a clear stake in the situation, such as neighbors of the troubled nation."

If ground force deployments are needed, they "should be conducted only as part of joint operations to achieve the rapid defeat of the enemy's forces and the equally rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces, as was done in the first Gulf War," the report says.

http://www.stimson.org/images/uploads/research-pdfs/A_New_US_Defense_Strategy_for_a_New_Era.pdf">The report is based on a year-long study by an independent group asked to look, specifically, at strategy and spending in an era of tighter defense budgets.

In a suggestion also made in other studies, the report proposes reducing, but not eliminating, the number of U.S. troops permanently based overseas. The report says the U.S. needs to maintain ground, air and naval forces in Japan and Korea while developing a "more trusting" relationship with China and a smaller force in Europe "until lingering uncertainties about Russia's intentions are resolved."

But it also recommends cutting troops based elsewhere, relying instead on frequent rotations of expeditionary forces so they can "familiarize themselves with potential combat theaters."

The report also proposes changes in personnel policies and benefits:

• It suggests eliminating duplication among the services by combining training for chaplains, judge advocates general, meteorologists and linguists, a idea discussed in the post-Cold War drawdown that never gained traction because the services balked at the idea.

• Some health care clinics and hospitals, gyms and athletic fields and community facilities could be closed because there are existing facilities close by that could be used.

• Up to 100,000 active-duty jobs could be eliminated by cutting staff and support-related positions or by turning these into jobs for contractors or federal civilians.

Like many other recent reports on cost-cutting at the Pentagon, the Stimson report suggests savings are possible in military pay and benefits. Its options could save between $175 billion and $300 billion over 10 years by changing pay, non-cash benefits, retired pay and health care.

It does not recommend specifics, but talks about capping or even freezing basic pay levels, limiting health care benefits for retirees and reservists while increasing fees for others, phasing out the 20-year military retirement system, and providing cash in lieu of fringe benefits, such as providing a modest increase in basic pay while closing commissaries.

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