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No Room for More Risk in Defense Budget, Winnefeld Says

By Jim Garamone, DoD News, Defense Media Activity

While the president’s Fiscal 2016 Budget Request funds the defense strategy, the department has been assuming risk since sequestration, and there is no more room in the budget for risk, Navy Adm. James Winnefeld said here today.

The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the department is at “the manageable edge of risk” with the 2016 budget.

The Defense Department request – $534 billion in the base budget – breaks the sequestration cap of $498 billion set under the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Reversing Budget Declines

In the opinion of the nation’s military leaders, this is needed. “Fiscal Year 2016 reverses the decline in national defense spending of the past five years,” said Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a written statement on the budget. “The proposed budget helps ensure we can manage risk and meet near-term defense needs while preparing for the future.”

But it is not all brightness and light, the chairman said. “It represents the minimum resource level necessary to remain a capable, ready and appropriately sized force able to meet our global commitments,” he said.

Winnefeld said those crafting the plan hit the hard budget “trifecta” -- citing declining resources, constraints on DoD flexibility and uncertainty over future resources.

“No budget is perfect, but we believe we’ve assembled the best possible combination of capability, capacity and readiness investments that we need to protect our nation and our national security interests,” he said. “We also believe it meets the current and future needs of the all- volunteer force that has served us so well and that represents our most asymmetric advantage in this world.”

Buying Back Risk

It’s time for the department to buy back the risk incurred when the Budget Control Act kicked in in 2013. The 2016 budget provides the resources needed to execute the defense strategy, “but we have little margin left for error or strategic surprise,” the admiral said.

For the past few years, the military has accepted greater risk than normal to execute the strategy with fewer resources. “We believe there's no room left on that end of the balance,” he said. “So, our best military advice is that any decrease below the (president’s fiscal 2016 budget) … will require adjustments to our defense strategy to restore balance. It doesn't mean the strategy completely breaks, but we will have to make adjustments to that strategy if we're going to stay in balance.”

If the funding and flexibility is not forthcoming, “it will mean reduced American leadership and freedom of action, and that’s, of course, an option, but not one that I think most of us would prefer,” he said.