Special operations forces will be among the growth areas in the military even as funding dwindles, the Pentagon’s No. 2 civilian leader says.
President Obama “made sure that we didn’t eat our seed corn in a budget reduction,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter said Nov. 29 at Duke University.
“And so that meant continuing to invest, and, in fact, we are growing the special operations forces, actually growing them,” Carter said.
Special operations forces, many of which have their headquarters at Fort Bragg, are trained and organized to work in small groups, often in hostile areas on sensitive missions. Their jobs range from hunting terrorists to training foreign militaries in the local language.
The United States will increase its focus on the Asia-Pacific region, continue its attention on the Middle East and cope with terrorist threats in Africa, he said. Priority will be given to alliances and partnerships and holding military exercises around the world, he said.
Carter made his comments as part of the Von der Heyden Fellows Program Endowment Fund Lecture Series.
The U.S. military faces the twin challenges of the national budget crisis and coming up with a strategy as the Iraq-Afghanistan era comes to an end, he said.
Carter and his boss, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, have been warning for months about the danger of automatic across-the-board cuts that will take effect Jan. 1 unless Congress acts to head them off.
“It’s not just the amount of dollars, it’s the idiotic way that we are required to take those cuts,” Carter said. “And, of course, it’s idiotic because the intent of sequester was to use the threat of cuts implemented inflexibly, and really mindlessly, to force Congress to enact a compromise deficit reduction plan. That was its intent. It was never intended to be implemented.”
Special operations forces will be a key part of “agile, ready, technologically advanced military” in the era after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
Fort Bragg is the home of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command and Joint Special Operations Command. The headquarters for the Marine Corps’ special operations forces is at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base at Jacksonville.
“We are increasing our funding for cyber, even in this environment,” Carter said. “Same for electronic warfare, and electronic protection — very important field.”
The U.S. military is focusing on space and developing “new capabilities to counter weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
“All of these areas that are so important for the future,” he said.
Carter stressed the importance of “our science and technology base and, of course, new capabilities, novel capabilities that we haven’t revealed yet.”
In his previous job as undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, Carter had a role in overseeing some of the military’s largest aircraft and weapons programs.
Reserve forces will be of “a new post-Iraq and Afghanistan concept of readiness for each of our services,” he said. “Not an easy thing to do.”
Fort Bragg last year became the home of U.S. Army Reserve Command headquarters, which oversees more than 200,000 soldiers.
The top leaders of the Army Reserve and Army National Guard say they want to continue the ready-to-deploy role they came to fill over the past decade rather than reverting to their former Cold War standby status.
“We wanted to preserve a great strength we have built up over the last decade, which is the tremendous talent we have in the all-volunteer force,” Carter said. “We both wanted to retain it, and we wanted to respect it.”
The United States has new security partners such as India and the Philippines, he said. Fort Bragg will host soldiers from India in the spring for an exercise. Military-to-military relations with China will be enhanced, he said.
The Navy will shift its focus from the Atlantic to the Pacific, he said.
“The Army itself plans to align 70,000 troops to the Asia-Pacific region as part of its new general regional alignment, which heavily weighs the Asia-Pacific region,” Carter said.
There will be no change in Marine Corps presence west of the international dateline, although the Marine Corps will be reducing in size at the end of the Iraq/Afghanistan war, he said.
“And in fact, they — they’ll be seeing more of the Marines in the Pacific, and the Army, too,” he said. “Why? Because they’re not in Afghanistan.