The sequester hits! Is everyone okay?

By John Keller
Posted by John Keller

Today is day-five of the long-dreaded defense sequester -- an ugly creature of the White House and Congress that threatens to lop off nearly a half trillion dollars from the U.S. defense budget over the next decade. The impact came on 1 March. So is everyone okay? Everyone still here?

Some promised cuts on the Department of Defense (DOD) budget have hit already. The Navy Blue Angels and Air Force Thunderbirds flight demonstration teams will not thrill air show audiences this summer.

So far, that's about the biggest defense-cut "disaster" I can see, so far, at least. No aircraft carries sunk as artificial reefs, no countries left undefended, no wide-open borders, no hastily discharged soldiers or airmen left begging in the streets.

Maybe it's time some of those hotshot Blue Angels and Thunderbirds pilots get back to front-line squadrons, but I digress.

This is not to make light of the very real defense cuts in store for the DOD, but could it be that sanity could emerge from this sequester, that perhaps intelligent decisions could be made on where required cuts in defense spending will hit? I'm starting to think this is so, and that the worst-case doom-and-gloom stories we've been hearing for months are largely fantasy.

Don't get me wrong, though. Certainly there's going to be pain in the military and in the defense industry. Military contractors are laying off portions of their work forces, new military programs are being delayed or scrapped, active-duty warfighters are waiting to see if can continue on with their military careers or be separated from the service to face a tough civilian economy.

Out of all this, though, I think we can be sure of one thing: the U.S. military is not going away. Will it change? Certainly. Will it be business as usual? Not a chance. Will military leaders face rethinking many of their critical missions? Bet on it. Still, the U.S. military is in it for the long term.

Here are a few details. For the rest of federal fiscal year 2013, which lasts until the end of next September, the Pentagon has to cut $42.7 billion from its budget. Nearly all aspects of military spending, except military personnel spending, will be hit by this sequester.

Areas of the defense budget to receive across-the-board cuts are non-war spending, war funding, and some Hurricane Sandy aid. Sequestration cuts will hit military personnel in the form of attrition and furloughs rather than pay cuts. Military personnel being furloughed must be notified 30 days in advance.

That means everybody's getting hit, but I don't think the damage will be fatal. It's clear the Pentagon has to spend less on airplanes, ships, combat vehicles, training time, maintenance, technology insertion, and systems upgrades. That's the bad news.

Now think of a family that has a breadwinner laid off from his or her job. Nothing like that to clarify what's really important. Maybe this will be a wholesome exercise for a military that, by and large, is used to getting nearly all of what it wants.

For the defense industry, there might be a silver lining, too. At least now companies have an idea what they have to work with, and can chart a way forward.

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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at ernestob@pennwell.com and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at Courtney@Pennwell.com, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

December 2013
Volume 24, Issue 12
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