Humans Lose, Robots Win in New Defense Budget

The big loser in the Pentagon’s new budget? Ordinary human beings.

About 80,000 Army soldiers and 20,000 Marines are getting downsized. Half of the Army’s conventional combat presence in Europe is packing up and ending its post-Cold War staycation. Replacing them, according to the $613 billion budget previewed by the Pentagon on Thursday: unconventional special-operations forces; new bombers; new spy tools; new missiles for subs; and a veritable Cylon army of drones.

This is the first of the Pentagon’s new, smaller “austerity” budgets: it’s asking Congress for $525 billion (plus $88.4 billion for the Afghanistan war), compared to a $553 billion request (plus $117 billion in war cash) last year. Only the Pentagon is emphasizing (.pdf) what the military is keeping, not what it’s cutting. That’s because congressional Republicans don’t like swallowing these cuts — and really don’t want to acquiesce to a currently-scheduled law that could tack on another $600 billion-plus to the already-scheduled, decade-long $487 billion in cuts. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is preempting the objections, promising a force that’s “smaller and leaner, but agile, flexible, ready and technologically advanced.”

That means no changes to the U.S. fleet of 11 aircraft carriers and 10 air wings, all reflecting the Obama administration’s emphasis on the western Pacific. It means leaving the nuclear triad — the bombers, subs and missiles that can end all life on earth — alone. (With one exception: the military will delay replacing the Ohio-class submarine by two years.) It means electronic weapons to jam enemy defenses and attack online networks. It means elite commando forces like the ones who just rescued two aid workers kidnapped in Somalia. And it means drones for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert.

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