The Army is the biggest loser in the Pentagon's slimmed-down budget. It looks to shed 100,000 soldiers in coming years.
But there are winners. And fattened accounts say a lot about priorities and direction, particularly in an era of austerity. If austerity can be said of a $496 billion spending plan.
Take, for example, the Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile. A mouthful that sounds a bit better by its abbreviation — JASSM. Unless you're the Chinese People's Liberation Army. Then it sounds just plain bad.
Here's why: The missile can be launched from all kinds of warplanes, from fighters like the F-15 to the stealthy B-2 bomber. The newest model missile more than doubles the range of its predecessor to more than 500 nautical miles. That's the unclassified range. It's likely that it can be fired from much farther away.
And that makes it particularly relevant to China, which has been beefing up its arsenal of so-called anti-access, area-denial weapons. These missiles are intended to destroy ships and bases and keep the U.S. military far from its shores.
Air Force documents from a few years back show that a B-1 bomber flying from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, and armed with previous-generation JASSMs, has an effective range that extends well inland into China. The new missile drives that threat even deeper into Chinese soil.
The bottom line: the Pentagon wants to boost spending on the JASSM from $277 million for fiscal 2014 to $353 million in 2015. That will buy the military 224 new missiles compared with the 187 it bought last year.
Pennies on the Pentagon's nearly half-trillion dollar budget, perhaps. But increases in spending, such as those for Special Operations forces, say a lot about the military's future.
"JASSM is well-suited to attacking heavily defended targets because it can be launched from planes over 200 miles away and enemies can't see it coming," says Loren Thompson, a defense industry consultant and analyst at the Lexington Institute think tank. "It is extremely accurate, exploding a thousand-pound warhead within a few feet of aim points. Long-range, air-launched munitions like JASSM help U.S. forces overcome 'anti-access' strategies that China and other countries are pursuing to keep America's military at bay."
Consider, too, our report from a few months ago that the Air Force is upgrading World War II-era bomber bases in the same region.
If you want evidence of the Pentagon's "pivot" to Asia, look no further.