How Big Would DoD Budget be Under Sequestration? Historically Big, It Turns Out.

How big would the U.S. defense budget be if sequestration happens? Turns out, despite the sometimes-apocalyptic rhetoric, big. And how would the post-Afghanistan defense budget draw down compare to slowdowns in Pentagon spending that occurred after the Korean, Vietnam and Cold wars? Turns out, it would be smaller.

All of that is according to the work of a study group commissioned by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), released earlier today.

As the above CSIS graph shows, under sequestration, annual Pentagon spending would drop 31 percent from its 2010 peak to its sequester-era low. That compares to a 33 percent decline after Vietnam, and a 36 percent post-Cold War drop. And after the Korean war, yearly Defense Department budgets fell off by 43 percent.

That means after America’s longest war (Afghanistan) ever, Pentagon spending would undergo the smallest post-1952 draw down, according to CSIS.

There is wide consensus in Washington that, even if sequester is avoided, annual DoD spending will continue to slow. At a Friday forum at CSIS, right on cue, an industry official asked an expert panel where are the “opportunities” for defense firms.

“People forget how big defense is,” replied CSIS’s Clark Murdock, an Office of the Secretary of Defense veteran. 

Even if sequestration happens, Murdock said, “it’s still an awful lot of money. The amount of dollars [DoD] spends means there are always going to be opportunities.”

Murdock floated the idea of overhauling the defense budget process, and using that to calculate the proper size of the annual Pentagon budget.

But is that in the defense sector’s best interest? Maybe not. If its a big topline the Pentagon most wants, Murdock explained, sequestration would equate to a topline $30 billion larger early next decade than under his prescribed “rational approach.”


John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett