Today’s financial skimping will lead to military forces and equipment that are short on readiness for future conflicts. Cutbacks in training and travel to conferences where service members network, learn about the latest in technologies and benefit from educational courses is one way to meet mandated budget cuts; but in the long term, they will result in service members who are ill-prepared to meet the challenges of what some believe will be a volatile future. Simultaneously, reductions in maintenance of vehicles, networks and ships will result in higher repair bills much like a car that is not routinely taken to the shop ends up costing the owner more to fix in the long run.
This was the general consensus of the military, government and industry experts who spoke at the East: Joint Warfighting 2013 conference at the Virginia Beach Convention Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in May. The participants represented all of the military services as well as the international community.
Adm. William E. Gortney, USN, commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, opened the event saying that the military and industry are facing a decade of change and choices. As the services are ramping down from combat mode, they are refocusing on the Pacific theater, which is more of an intellectual shift in Washington, D.C., than a military change, Adm. Gortney said. While resources are on the decline now, the admiral believes economics is and always has been a sine wave, up at times and down at others. The U.S. Defense Department’s budget will increase again, and the department must be ready. “The only way we’re going to get through this is to lead our way to the other side,” the admiral said.
Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, agreed with Adm. Gortney about the need for strong leadership. He admitted that the Defense Department did not expect sequestration to occur, and he is becoming even less optimistic about future budgets. Department leaders are now “doing the best we can,” he said, citing lack of stability and lack of certainty as the primary challenges today. Kendall also pointed out that the long-term effects of sequestration are not being considered. Because the funding to maintain technology and infrastructure is not available today, they will continue to erode and cost more in the future to repair.
Troubled economic times also are leading to another problem the U.S. Coast Guard is facing, according to Lt. D.F. Flusche, USCG, commanding officer, Coast Guard Cutter Block Island. Members of a panel of junior officers at the event focused on operating in the new fiscal environment. In some cases, such as the U.S. Coast Guard, the overall national economic downturn is posing challenges associated with success. In others, the lack of training funds is putting troops in some very tight spots.
Lt. Flusche explained that one of the Coast Guard junior officers’ chief difficulties currently is keeping troops motivated. Because of an influx of new recruits, a logjam at the middle career range means that younger guardsmen cannot advance as quickly in their careers.
Robert O. Work, former undersecretary of the Navy and current chief executive officer, Center for a New American Security, spoke frankly about the state of the military’s financial circumstances and shared his opinion about the next steps. He pointed out this is not the first time the U.S. military has felt a budget crunch, and the time for sounding the alarm has not yet arrived. Explaining that fiscal year 2013 is only the third year of a drawdown in funding, Work stated the cuts have not yet bottomed out.
The most troubling issue may be that the bottom is not yet clearly apparent. However, Work predicted tight budgets are likely to be around for the next four to nine years unless something, such as another large national security threat, occurs to change the situation.
Attempting to balance the budget between what Congress is willing to approve and what the military needs to operate solely by implementing efficiencies “is a bunch of crap,” Work said. “It’s not as easy as people think.” Cutting procurement and research and development spending is the worst approach, he added, because such cuts will only lead to larger expenditures in the future.
Work proposed that what is needed is a combination of technological and managerial innovation. Experimentation must take place not only in how to use new capabilities but also in ways to reorganize the command and troop structure.
Weathering the storm of budget constraints will require the military to focus on the most important aspects of its mission as the defenders of the nation. “In this period, if we do not prioritize, we’re done,” Work said.