FPI Bulletin: Defense Experts Testify on Damaging Impact of Sequestration

February 13, 2015

This week, both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees heard testimony on the ways in which sequestration has compromised the readiness, capabilities, and technological advantage of the U.S. military. All together, sequestration and the other provisions of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) will impose $1 trillion of cuts to the defense budget over ten years.

On Tuesday, Amb. Eric Edelman, a member of the FPI Board of Directors, testified along with Michèle Fluornoy of the Center for New American Security (CNAS) before the Senate Armed Services Committee. On Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled, “The FY16 Budget Request: A View From Outside Experts.”

The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) believes that lawmakers and staff will benefit from the following insights offered during this week’s testimony as they consider how to repair the damage done by sequestration and rebuild the U.S. military.


The Dangers of Sequestration

“Our number one appeal to this committee and to the Congress more broadly is to work to repeal the BCA and end sequestration. This is absolutely imperative. We cannot restore readiness and invest in our technological edge unless we do so.” – Michèle Fluornoy, CNAS

“Budget cuts and sequestration are undermining the department's ability to maintain a robust and ready force, to retain the best and brightest people, and to invest in the capabilities that are going to be necessary to keep our technological edge and our military superiority in a more challenging future.” – Michèle Fluornoy, CNAS

“[The National Defense Panel began its work] before President Putin had invaded and annexed Crimea and destabilized eastern Ukraine, before the collapse of the Iraqi security forces and the seizure of Mosul and Anbar Province by ISIL and its approach to Baghdad…  [I]t struck us as a panel that given those growing challenges, to stay on the path of the Budget Control Act caps and sequestration made no sense.” – Amb. Eric Edelman

“With clear and present challenges in the major theaters and domains of warfare, the United States cannot afford a ‘strategic pause’ or an ‘offset’ strategy that banks on ‘innovations’ to come in ‘20YY.’…   [T]he U.S. military is too small and not ready to respond to a world of crises from Eastern Europe to East Asia.  The problem is now, not tomorrow.” – Tom Donnelly, American Enterprise Institute (AEI)

“If nothing else, the last year has reinforced our basic observation that the longer we wait to rebuild our defenses, the costlier that rebuilding will be and the tougher the strategic task.” – Tom Donnelly, AEI

Fixing the Defense Budget

“Secretary Gates's top line [for the Pentagon budget] made sense because it was really the last time the department had been trying to define its needs on the basis of something approaching a strategy, as opposed to being given arbitrary numbers by either OMB or because of the Budget Control Act caps.” – Amb. Eric Edelman

“The budget caps are structured in a way that promotes poor strategic choices: it wastes time, resources, and especially human capital to make painful cuts to end strength and capabilities only to reverse them a few years later.” – Nora Bensahel, American University

“I don't think you can solve the nation's budget problems on the back of discretionary spending... [T]he big moving muscles are tax reform and entitlement reform, and so that's where I think we need to focus.” – Michèle Fluornoy, CNAS

The Readiness of the U.S. Military is Rapidly Declining

“Only half of the Marine Corps' home station units are at an acceptable readiness level. Less than half of the combat coded units in the Air Force are fully ready for their mission. Navy deployments have been canceled, and only a third of the Navy's contingency force is ready to deploy within the required 30 days. And the list goes on. These readiness impacts are real. And the [National Defense Panel] recommended that the Congress should make an immediate and special appropriation above and beyond current budget levels in OCO, to correct these readiness shortfalls.” – Michèle Fluornoy, CNAS

“In continuing to ask the military to do more with less, we have seen a shrinking of the breathing space between demand and capacity, which limits the Pentagon’s ability to react and adapt to new challenges.” – Ryan Crotty, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)

“Sequester funding levels would likely exacerbate growing inequalities within the force, perpetuating ‘winners and losers’ for the best training and equipment.” – Ryan Crotty, CSIS

“[W]e'll lose wars, our people in uniform will die, and we as a civilian society will have broken faith with the very small number of Americans who go in harm's way to defend us. It is really that simple. You know, the chiefs talk about readiness statistics and all the rest of that stuff, which abstracts it to one level, but it you know, that's what it comes down to.” – Tom Donnelly, AEI

Losing Our Technological Edge

“As the president’s budget anticipates further declines in research and development spending, hoping for ‘game-changing’ innovations cannot be a sound basis for defense planning.” – Tom Donnelly, AEI

“Over the last decade, we've been essentially eating the seed corn that was laid down in the Carter-Reagan defense buildup of the late 1970s and early '80s.” – Amb. Eric Edelman

“For much of the past several decades, the U.S. military enjoyed a virtual monopoly on precision-guided weapons. That monopoly is now gone and the barriers to entry into precision-guided strike have been lowered to the point that even non-state actors can gain access to guided rockets, artillery, mortars, and missile systems” – Jim Thomas, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA)

“Similarly, it is becoming easier for state and non-state actors to acquire and employ unmanned air, ground/surface and undersea systems. Already, we have seen groups such as Hezbollah employ small drones for surveillance.” – Jim Thomas, CSBA

“We haven't built a new nuclear weapon since 1988. We haven't tested one since 1991. There are lots of ways that we maintain the safety and surety of the stockpile. But as time goes on, and particularly not only as the inevitable corrosion and degradation of components goes on, but also the loss of human capital because we're not able to get the best and brightest minds in the field the way we used to be able to do, I think it's a matter of really increasing concern.” – Amb. Eric Edelman

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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