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Service chiefs testify on risks of sequestration

WASHINGTON (AFPS) --

As they face the prospect of another year of deep cuts to their budgets, the military's service chiefs testified today before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the impact sequestration is having on the ability to organize, train and equip their service members.

 

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos told lawmakers sequestration portends a hollow force, greater risk of coercion and fewer options to handle global adversaries.

 

Odierno urged all military leaders and lawmakers to keep foremost in their minds the impact budget shortfalls have on soldiers who are asked to protect the nation.

 

"They are national treasures and their sacrifices cannot be taken for granted," Odierno said. "They are not chess pieces to be moved upon a board –- each and every one is irreplaceable."

 

Odierno added, "We are drawing down our Army not only before a war is over, but at a time when unprecedented uncertainty remains in the international security environment."

 

The total Army - active duty, Guard and Reserve currently remains heavily committed in operations overseas and at home.

 

"More than 70,000 U.S. Army soldiers are deployed to contingency operations with nearly 50,000 soldiers in Afghanistan alone," Odierno said. There are more than 87,000 soldiers forward stationed across the globe in nearly 120 countries, he added.

 

During his 37 years of service, Odierno said the Army has deployed soldiers and fought more than 10 conflicts, including Afghanistan, the longest war in the nation's history.

 

"No one desires peace more than the soldier who has lived through war," he said.

 

But with a looming drawdown and the restructuring of the Army into a smaller force, the general explained, the service will experience degraded readiness and extensive modernization shortfalls.

 

"We'll be required to end, restructure or delay over 100 acquisition programs," Odierno said.

Personnel cuts will also take a toll, the general said.

 

"The Army will be forced to take additional end-strength cuts to no more than 420,000 active duty, 315,000 Army National Guard and 185,000 in the U.S. Army Reserves," Odierno said. "This will represent a total Army end strength reduction of more than 18 percent over seven years -- a 26 percent reduction in the active component ... a 12 percent reduction in the national guard and a 9 percent reduction in the U.S. Army Reserves."

 

Odierno stressed that he does not consider himself an alarmist, but a realist.

 

"In the end, our decisions today and in the near future will impact our nation's security posture for the next 10 years," He said.

 

The Navy, too, will have to make strategic choices, operating where and when it matters to respond to contingencies with acceptable readiness, Greenert said. He noted current hot spots such as North Korea, Egypt and Syria.

 

"This ability to be present reassures our allies and [ensures] that U.S. interests around the world are properly served," Greenert said.

 

Sequestration in 2014, Greenert warned, will further reduce Navy readiness and the service's ship and aircraft investment as the service attempts to maintain a sea-based strategic deterrent and sustain a relevant industrial base and an appropriate forward presence.

 

Greenert said most concerning is the reduction in the Navy's operations and maintenance budget, which will result in only one non-deployed carrier strike group and one amphibious ready group trained for contingency response.

 

Greenert said this will fall short of the Navy's covenant with combatant commanders -- the provision of at least two carrier strike groups, two amphibious ready groups deployed and another three of each in and around the continental United States for short-notice response.

 

The budget fallout also ensures a continued hiring freeze for most of the Navy's civilian positions, degrading the distribution of skill in the workforce, the admiral said.

 

Greenert recommended Congress allow the Navy to transfer money between accounts as one way of mitigating the situation.

 

"This would enable us to pursue innovative acquisition approaches, start new projects, increase production quantities and complete the ships that are under construction," recommending the transfer of about billion dollars each into his service's operations, maintenance and procurement accounts.

 

Similarly, Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, described readiness sustainment within the current fiscal environment as a "mortgage" of tomorrow's readiness, infrastructure sustainment and modernization.

 

"We are ready today because your Marines are resilient and determined to defend the United States of America," Amos said. "We are funding today's readiness by curtailing future investment in equipment and in our facilities."

 

Amos expressed his displeasure over last month's furlough of some 14,000 Marine Corps civilians. Since sequestration began in March, Amos said he has realigned funds within his authority to maintain unit readiness to the highest extent possible.

 

"My priorities have remained consistent: first and foremost, the near-term readiness of forward deployed forces, followed by those that are next to deploy," he said.

 

The commandant reported that the Marine Corps is currently spending about 16 percent of what is required "bare minimum" to maintain barracks, facilities, bases, stations and training ranges.

 

"This is unsustainable and it can't continue over the long term."

 

To meet the requirements of future conflicts, investments in modernization, infrastructure and people are critical, he said.

 

The defense strategic guidance calls for 186,800 active duty Marines, which enables the Marine Corps to meet steady state operations and fight a major war, and preserves a 1:3 dwell time for Marines and their families.

 

A force of 174,000 Marines, which sequestration will require, drives the service to a 1:2 dwell, or 6 months deployed with 12 months of recuperation and training, Amos said.

 

"This is dangerously close to the same combat operational tempo we had in Iraq and Afghanistan while fighting in multiple theaters and maintaining steady state amphibious operations around the world," Amos said. "This is a formula for more American casualties."

 

In the Air Force, Welsh described the impacts of sequestration as sobering and warned that the service will be forced to cut flying hours to the extent that in coming years many flying units won't be able to retain mission readiness.

 

"We'll cancel or significantly curtail mission exercises again," Welsh said. "And we'll reduce our initial pilot production targets which we were able to avoid in FY 13 because prior year unobligated funds helped offset about 25 percent of our sequestration bill last year." 

 

Those funds; however, are no longer available, Welsh said. 

 

The Air Force hopes to build a viable plan to slow personnel and infrastructure costs when able, he said. Yet, the only way to pay the full sequestration bill, he added, is to reduce force structure, readiness and modernization.

 

"Over the next five years, the Air Force may be forced to cut up to 25,000 Airmen and up to 550 aircraft, which is about 9 percent of our inventory," Welsh said. These cost savings, he said, could force the Air Force to divest entire fleets of aircraft.

 

Meanwhile, Air Force officials will prioritize, focusing on long-range capabilities, readiness and full-spectrum training, Welsh said.

 

"We'll favor recapitalization over modernization, which is why our top-three acquisition programs remain the F-35, the KC-46 and the long-range strike bomber," Welsh said.

 

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