The U.S. military’s readiness to fight and its ability to purchase major weapon systems for the future are both threatened by strict budget caps established under sequestration, the Joint Chiefs warned during a November 7 hearing with the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services. Major weapon systems, including aircraft carriers, unmanned aerial vehicles, the ballistic missile submarine replacement program known as SSBN-X and the Army’s Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program, all could be negatively impacted, the chiefs say.
Gen. Raymond Odierno, USA, Army chief of staff, told the Senate that he is a realist rather than an alarmist, but that readiness levels already are at the lowest he has seen during a military career spanning more than three decades. “Today’s international environment and emerging threats require a joint force with a ground component that has the capability and capacity to deter and compel adversaries who threaten our national security interests. The Budget Control Act and sequestration severely threaten our ability to do this,” Gen. Odierno testified.
The other chiefs echoed those concerns. “As we go forward, my focus—regardless of how big the Marine Corps ends up being as a result of how much money I get—will be a balanced, high state of readiness force ready to respond to today’s crises,” said Gen. James Amos, USMC, commandant of the Marine Corps. He indicated that the Marine Corps already has taken drastic measures to reduce costs. “There’s no more fat on our bones,” Gen. Amos said.
The Army chief listed several major Army programs that will be threatened if sequestration continues. “From fiscal year 14 to fiscal year 17, as we draw down and restructure the Army into a smaller force, the Army will have a degraded readiness and extensive modernization program shortfalls. We’ll be required to end, restructure or delay more than 100 acquisition programs, putting at risk such programs as the Ground Combat Vehicle, the Armed Aerial Scout, the production and modernization of our other aviation programs, system upgrades for unmanned aerial vehicles and the modernization of our air defense command and control systems, just to name a few,” Gen. Odierno testified.
Adm. Jonathan Greenert, USN, chief of naval operations, said Navy programs also are threatened. “Without Congressional action, we will be forced to cancel the planned procurement of the Virginia-class submarine, the Littoral Combat Ship and the Afloat Forward Staging Base ship,” Adm. Greenert reported, adding that the Navy also will have to delay delivery of the next aircraft carrier and the midlife overhaul of the an existing carrier. Additionally, the service will have to cancel procurement of at least 11 tactical aircraft.
Adm. Greenert suggested the possibility of allowing the Defense Department some degree of spending flexibility. “The key to a balanced portfolio is a spending bill, and secondarily, the option has been proposed to the Congress for the transfer of money between accounts. This at least would enable us to pursue innovative acquisition approaches, start new projects, increase production quantities and complete the ships we have under construction,” the admiral said.
The Air Force chief of staff also pushed for greater spending flexibility. “If we are given the flexibility to make prudent cuts over time, we can achieve the savings required under current law,” said Gen. Mark Welsh, USAF. “However, sequestration robs us of that flexibility. We’re left with options that simply don’t make business sense. We need your help. We need funding bills that give us stability so we can achieve real savings in a strategically and managerially sound way.”
Questioned further, Gen. Welsh indicated that getting rid of sequestration is the ideal solution. Barring that possibility, however, spending flexibility would offer some relief.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said the country needs a sense of urgency to bring it back to a “rational approach to the nation’s defense,” but he also pointed out that the Defense Department is asking for more money for programs already suffering cost overruns. “Adm. Greenert, you just talked about needing an additional $500 million for the Gerald R. Ford [aircraft carrier]. You didn’t mention that we have a $2 billion cost overrun for the Gerald R. Ford,” McCain said, asking if anyone has been fired for those cost overruns. The Arizona senator also brought up the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s cost inflation.
Additionally, he criticized the Joint Chiefs for the size of their staffs. “The numbers are astronomical as to the increasing size of your staffs. We have seen doubling and redoubling of the staffs at the major commands—and of your own. That has never been brought under control,” McCain said.
Gen. Odierno pointed out later in the hearing that cost overruns are sometimes caused by reductions in the number of platforms being purchased.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) brought up the fact that Congress continues to force the Army to purchase Abrams tanks that the Army does not want. He also mentioned cost increases for the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, the brand new C-27J cargo planes that are being mothballed, C-27As that are sitting unused in Afghanistan and the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle, which the Army developed and cancelled after the first test flight.
Some senators stressed that Congress is to blame for the budget chaos. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) suggested the service chiefs bring mirrors the next time they are dragged to the Hill to testify about the sequestration effects. Those mirrors could be used to force Congress to look at look at themselves and see who is to blame, he indicated.
No one during the hearing defended sequestration.