Balance is a key word in the fiscal year 2015 defense budget request, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told Pentagon reporters that the budget request he and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel previewed today "represents a responsible and, more importantly, a realistic way forward."
The request, he said, represents both sound national security and fiscal responsibility. "It provides the tools for today's force to accomplish the missions we have been assigned, rebuilding readiness in areas that were, by necessity, de-emphasized over the past decade," he said.
The request also modernizes the joint force, and it ensures the U.S. military is globally networked and can deliver options for the nation, the chairman said. "It reflects in real terms how we're reducing our cost, the cost of doing business, and working to ensure that the force is in the right balance," he added.
The budget request has the money to maintain the world's finest military while transitioning that force to a smaller, more affordable force over time, Dempsey said, noting that the Joint Chiefs have been heavily involved in the process. "The chiefs and I will never end our campaign to find every way to become more effective," he said.
The U.S. military must become more efficient and more innovative as it faces the threats of today and the future, the chairman told reporters. "We'll seek innovative approaches not just in technology, but also in how we develop leaders, aggregate our formations and work with our partners," he said. "We will improve how we buy weapons and goods and services, streamline our headquarters, and, with the support of our elected leaders, shed excess infrastructure and weapons systems that we no longer need and simply can no longer afford."
The budget request also recognizes the imperative of getting personnel costs back in balance, and seeks to slow the growth of those costs, Dempsey said. It provides for a 1 percent pay raise for military personnel, freezing the pay of general and flag officers, slowing growth of the housing allowance benefit and making the TRICARE health care plan more efficient.
If these costs are not brought back into balance, "we'll be forced into disproportionate cuts to readiness and to modernization," the general said.
The men and women of the U.S. military embrace change, Dempsey said. "They are less understanding of piecemeal approaches," he added. "They want -- and they deserve -- predictability."
The chiefs will wait to make any recommendation about military retirement until a panel examining the system completes its study, Dempsey said. "The chiefs and I also continue to strongly recommend ‘grandfathering’ any future changes to military retirement,” he added, “and we'll continue to place a premium on efforts that support wounded warriors and those with mental health issues."
The chairman stressed that the budget request entails risks. "We do assume higher risks in some areas under the [fiscal 2015] budget, and we'll have to manage those risks," he said.
Still, he said, the fiscal 2015 outlook is better than the outlook if sequestration-level cuts return in fiscal 2016, as is currently the law.
"The risks grow and the options we can provide the nation dramatically shrink," Dempsey said. "Now, we're all willing to take risks, but none of us are willing to take a gamble, because at the end of the day, it's our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen -- America's sons and daughters -- who will face tomorrow's challenges with the strategy, structure and resources that we develop today.
"Our most sacred obligation is to make sure they are never sent into a fair fight,” he continued, “which is to say that they must be the best-led, the best-trained, and the best-equipped force in the world."
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneAFPS)