Military officials testify on sequestration, readiness

  • Published
  • By Terri Moon Cronk
  • American Forces Press Service
Sequestration would degrade military readiness, senior military officials recently told a Senate panel.

Army Gen. John F. Campbell, vice chief of staff; Marine Corps Gen. John M. Paxton Jr., assistant commandant; Air Force Gen. Larry O. Spencer, vice chief of staff; and Navy Vice Adm. Philip H. Cullom, the deputy chief of naval operations for fleet readiness and logistics, testified March 26 before the Senate Armed Forces Committee's subcommittee on readiness and management support.

"Today, the Army remains globally engaged with more than 66,000 Soldiers deployed, including about 32,200 in Afghanistan and about 85,000 forward-stationed in over 150 different countries," Campbell told the Senate panel.

While restoration of some funding for fiscal year 2014 helps the Army restore readiness, he said, it is not sufficient to fully eliminate the shortfall in core capabilities created from the past decade of counterinsurgency operations, and made greater by sequestration.

"The current level of (fiscal 2015) funding will allow the Army to sustain the readiness levels achieved in (fiscal) '14, but will only generate minimum readiness required to meet the defense strategic guidance," Campbell added. "We anticipate sequestration reductions in (fiscal 2016) and beyond (will) severely degrade manning, readiness and modernization efforts and would not allow us to execute the defense strategic guidance."

The Army is in the process of a drawdown to 490,000 active-duty Soldiers, 350,000 Army National Guardsmen, and 202,000 reservists by the end of fiscal 2015, Campbell said.

By the end of fiscal 2017, the Army will decrease its end strength to 450,000 active-duty, 335,000 Army National Guardsmen and 195,000 reservists, he said.

"This cuts disproportionately on the active Army and they will reverse the force mix ratio going 51 percent active and 49 percent reserve in (fiscal) 2012 to 46 percent active and 54 percent in our reserve component in (fiscal) 2017. So we have a greater preponderance in our reserve components, in both our National Guard and our reserve," Campbell added.

As the Army continues to draw down and restructure over the next three to four years, "readiness and modernization deficiencies" will exist, he said.

"Fiscal realities have caused us to implement tiered readiness as a bridging strategy (by) ... maintaining different parts of the Army at varying levels of preparation," he added.

"This year is critical to deciding the fate of what is the greatest army in the world and could have significant implications on our nation's security for years to come," Campbell said. "Cuts implemented under the Budget Control Act and sequestration instantly impaired our readiness."

About 30,000 Marines are now forward-deployed around the world, promoting peace, protecting the national interest and securing U.S. defense, Paxton said.

Marine readiness has been proven many times, he added, and "significantly" twice in the last year with humanitarian missions during a typhoon in the Philippines and the rescue of American citizens in South Sudan.

Both missions "demonstrated the reality and the necessity for maintaining a combat-ready force that's capable of handling crisis today," Paxton said. "Such an investment is essential to maintaining our national security and our prosperity in the future."

As the nation continues to face fiscal uncertainty, the Marine Corps is making necessary choices to protect its near-term readiness and to place the service on the best trajectory to meet future defense requirements, Paxton said.

Marine Corps' leadership, he said, looks at issues through five pillars: to recruit and retain high-quality people, maintain the highest state of unit readiness, meet the combatant commanders' requirements for Marines, maintain appropriate infrastructure investments, and "keep an eye on the future" by investing in capabilities for tomorrow's challenges.

In the Air Force, decades of sustained combat operations stressed the ranks and decreased its readiness to unacceptable levels, although Airmen performed "exceptionally well" in the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism fights in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, Spencer told the Senate panel.

"We will continue to maintain our ability to respond to today's requirements, but we must also regain and maintain our ability to effectively operate in the most demanding threat environment," he said.

The bottom line on readiness, Spencer added, is the Air Force knows the "(fiscal) '15 (proposed) submission sets the conditions that enable us to begin the road to recovery in the years ahead, but we will need your help to get there."

Sequestration "has cut the Air Force budget by billions of dollars. Our only option is to reduce our force structure. We cannot retain more force structure than we can afford to keep ready," Spencer said.

Properly trained and equipped, the Air Force can set the conditions "for success in any conflict in any region of the world whenever we're called upon," he said.

The Navy continues to deliver ready, certified forces forward and will not compromise, Cullom said, calling it a responsibility to Sailors, their families and combatant commanders.

"With the budget you provided for this [fiscal] year '14, we're meeting our forward-presence commitment to the combatant commanders," the admiral said. "We are able to execute the deeper maintenance plan for our ships and aircraft, and we have restored a normal training and readiness progression within the fleet..

"Our maintenance plan continues to execute the reset of surface ship material condition after a decade of high temporal operations," Cullom continued. "But because of the need to drive our ships for much of this work, it must continue for at least five more years."

The Navy accepted "increased risk" into the mission areas of defense strategic guidance because of slowed modernization and restricted ordinance procurement, and the risk continues into the long-term viability of shore infrastructure, Cullom said.

"If we must return to sequestration levels in (fiscal) '16 and beyond, we will continue to strive to have a ready Navy, but it would require us to become smaller and less capable," he said.

"Our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines are the finest we have ever had and they're going into harm's way every day (...) . We must continue to provide them the right training and capable equipment to meet the challenges they face today and will face in the future," Cullom said.