Defense News is reporting that Pentagon leaders are discussing the possibility of rearranging its geographical combatant commands in response to continued budget pressures and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s order to cut headquarters staffing by 20 percent.
Military officials have discussed closing U.S. Africa Command; combining U.S. Southern Command and U.S. Northern Command into one “Americas” or “Western” command; and expanding U.S. Pacific Command to include Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to a report by Defense News reporter Marcus Weisgerber.
This would be the most significant move by the Pentagon in response to the $487 billion in budget cuts along with the $500 billion cut associated with sequestration. Such a move could mean significant changes to the U.S. defense strategy as well the closing of eight “service-supporting commands,” Weisgerber reported.
The potential closing of U.S. Africa Command would come only a few years after the Pentagon split it off from U.S. European Command and U.S. Central Command. The stand up of AfriCom was heralded as a significant diplomatic commitment to the African continent and support for the militaries in the region. Closing it would have a similar effect.
It would seemingly not take much effort considering the headquarters never left Stuttgart, Germany despite the controversy regarding it. Plenty of critics howled over keeping AfriCom’s headquarters in Europe, but a choice for which country to base the headquarters never solidified since the command’s stand up in 2008.
Closing Southern Command would also not surprise many. Plenty of lawmakers and academics have questioned its existence and the resources needed to keep it as a geographic combatant command. The drug war is typically a leading mission for SouthCom and there are plenty who still question whether the Defense Department should be in that business in the first place.
If the Pentagon is serious about cutting out bureaucracy and slimming down its headquarters requirements, combining Northern Command and Southern Command would make sense. Considering the manning reductions suggested by Hagel should the sequestration cuts stick through the next ten years, the Pentagon might not have a choice. How many personnel would the services be willing to dedicate to South America should the Army drop down below 400,000 soldiers?
As for the expansion of PaCom to include Afghanistan and Pakistan, that is a surprise. The logic explained by Weisgerber makes sense. Considering the connections between Indian and Pakistan and thus Afghanistan, the three countries should fall under the same combatant command. But should it be PaCom?
With the growth of China’s influence in the region, is that heaping too many hot spots under one combatant command? The same question could likely be asked regarding Central Command over the past decade, but did that work to the Pentagon’s advantage? Would it make more sense to move India under Central Command?
Regardless, this sort of shakeup would significantly alter the Defense Department’s national defense strategy and how it’s applied. As defense officials review the Unified Command Plan as they do every two years since 1940, it bears consideration as the Pentagon determines the best use of its twindling resources.