FPI Bulletin: Service Chiefs Agree—Defense Cuts Put American Lives at Risk

January 30, 2015

On January 28, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the national security impact of sequestration and the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA). The chiefs of staff of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps all testified. They delivered the sobering message that sequestration has undermined their ability to execute the missions assigned to them by the national defense strategy and that “Americans’ lives are being put at risk” by these senseless cuts.  

Next week, President Obama is expected to submit to Congress his budget request for Fiscal Year 2016. The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) believes that the following excerpts from the hearing will help to inform lawmakers and their staff as they consider the president’s budget request and what resources are needed to address the growing challenges to our national security.

The Strategic Cost of Sequestration

“It will challenge us to meet even our current level of commitments to our allies and partners around the world.  It will eliminate our capability on any scale to conduct simultaneous operations… [S]equestration even puts into question our ability to conduct even one long, prolonged, multi-phase combined arms campaign against a determined enemy… It puts into question our ability to deter and compel multiple adversaries simultaneously. Ultimately, sequestration limits strategic flexibility and requires us to hope we are able to predict the future with great accuracy, something we have never been able to do.” – Gen. Ray Odierno, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army

“The missions that have the highest risks are those missions requiring us to deter and defeat aggression, and the mission to project power despite an anti-access, area denial challenge… In terms of warfighting, the sequestered Navy of 2020 would be left in a position where it could not execute those two missions I referred to.  We go from high risk to we cannot execute those missions, and we would face higher risk in five additional missions of those 10. So that’s seven out of 10 [missions articulated in our Defense Strategic guidance].”– Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, U.S. Navy

“Speaking of winning and losing, at the BCA funding levels, the Air Force will no longer be able to meet the operational requirements of the Defense Strategic Guidance. We will not be able to simultaneously defeat an adversary, deny a second adversary and defend the homeland. And I don't think that's good for America, no matter what angle you look at it from.” – Gen. Mark Welsh, Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force

“Given the numerous and complex security challenges we face today, I believe DOD funding at the Budget Control Act level, with sequestration, will result in the need to develop a new strategy. We simply will not be able to execute the strategy.” – Gen. Joseph Dunford, Commandant of the Marine Corps

Bipartisan Agreement on the Danger of Sequestration

“We're here fighting as hard as we can to repeal sequestration, and that's a bipartisan effort.” – Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee

“We could be in a period of accelerating, but invisible decline until a crisis. And then the reckoning will be severe.” – Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee

“If you look at budgets, budgets tell you about priorities. We can say all we want about how we value military service and the defense mission, but at the end of the day, our budgets tell us something about what we really value.” – Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)

“One of the reasons that [sequestration] doesn't make much sense is that we're focusing all our budgetary attention on a declining part of the budget. The growth in the budget right now is in mandatory programs, and particularly in health care costs: Medicare, Medicaid, Children's Health Program. That's what's driving the federal deficit. It's not defense.” – Sen. Angus King (I-ME)

Toward a Hollow Force

“In the last three years, the Army's active component end strength has been reduced by 80,000; the reserve component by 18,000. We have 13 less active component brigade combat teams. We've eliminated three active aviation brigades. We are removing over 800 rotary-wing aircraft from the Army inventory…  [T]his is just a sample of what we have already done before sequestration even kicks in again in 2016.”– Gen. Ray Odierno, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army

“Our contingency response force, that's what's on call from the United States, is one-third of what it should be and what it needs to be.” – Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, U.S. Navy

“When we deployed to Operation Desert Storm in 1990, the Air Force had 188 fighter squadrons. Today, we have 54, and we're headed to 49 in the next couple of years. In 1990, there were 511,000 active duty airmen alone. Today, we have 200,000 fewer than that. And as those numbers came down, the operational tempo went up.” – Gen. Mark Welsh, Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force

“It will result in a Marine Corps with fewer active duty battalions and squadrons than would be required for a single major contingency.  Perhaps most disconcerting, it will result in fewer Marines and sailors being forward deployed in a position to immediately respond to crises involving our diplomatic posts, American citizens, or overseas interests.” – Gen. Joseph Dunford, Commandant of the Marine Corps

Military Readiness at Dangerous Lows

“Readiness has been degraded to its lowest level in 20 years…today we only have 33 percent of our brigades ready to the extent we would expect them to be if asked to fight.” – Gen. Ray Odierno, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army

“Navy’s fleet readiness will likely not recover from the ship and aircraft maintenance backlogs until about 2018, now that’s five years after the first round of sequestration.  This is just a small glimpse of the readiness price that’s caused by sequestration.” – Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, U.S. Navy

 “Today, just under 50 percent of [combat squadrons] are fully combat ready – under 50 percent…  Pilots sitting in a squadron looking out at their airplanes parked on the ramp certainly feel like a hollow force, whether we define it that way or not.” – Gen. Mark Welsh, Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force

“[A]proximately half of our non-deployed units, those who provide the bench to respond to the unexpected, are suffering personnel, equipment, and training shortfalls.  In a major conflict, those shortfalls will result in a delayed response and/or additional casualties.” – Gen. Joseph Dunford, Commandant of the Marine Corps

Modernization is Lagging

“We have already slashed investments in modernization by 25 percent… We’ve eliminated our much-needed infantry fighting vehicle modernization program and we have eliminated our Scout helicopter development program. We have significantly delayed other upgrades for many of our systems and aging platforms.” – Gen. Ray Odierno, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army

“[T]o deal with these shortfalls, we slowed – that means we pushed out – modernization that we had scheduled to be done during this Future Years Defense Plan.  We reduced procurement of advanced weapons and aircraft, we delayed upgrades to all but the most critical shore infrastructure… [A] return to sequestration in 2016 would necessitate a revisit and a revision of our defense strategy… We would further delay critical warfighting capabilities, further reduce readiness of contingency response forces – the ones that are only at one-third level – and perhaps forego or stretch procurement of ships and submarines and further downsize our munitions.” – Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, U.S. Navy

“If World War II's venerable B-17 Bomber had flown in the first Gulf War, it would have been younger than the B-52, the KC-135 and the U-2 are today. We currently have 12 fleets – 12 fleets of airplanes that qualify for antique license plates in the state of Virginia. We must modernize our Air Force.” – Gen. Mark Welsh, Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force

“We’re investing in modernization at an historically low level.  We know that we must maintain at least 10 percent to 12 percent of our resources on modernization to field a force for tomorrow.  To pay today’s bills, we’re currently investing 7 percent to 8 percent.  Overtime, that will result in maintaining older or obsolete equipment at higher cost and more operational risk.” – Gen. Joseph Dunford, Commandant of the Marine Corps

The Burden Placed on the Troops

“At what point do we, the institution and our nation, lose our soldiers' trust – the trust that we will provide them the right resources; the training and equipment to properly prepare them and lead them into harm's way; trust that we will appropriately take care of our soldiers and their families and our civilians who so selflessly sacrifice so much?” – Gen. Ray Odierno, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army

“Since 2013, our carrier strike groups, our amphibious ready groups and most of our destroyers have been on deployments lasting eight to 10 months or longer. This comes at a cost of our sailors' and our families' resiliency, it reduces the performance of the equipment and it will reduce the service lives of our ships.” – Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, U.S. Navy

“[Under sequestration in 2016], squadrons would be grounded, readiness rates would plummet, red and green flag exercises would have to be canceled, weapons school classes would be limited, and our air crew members’ frustration and their families’ frustration will rise again, just as the major airlines begin a hiring push expected to target 20,000 pilots over the next 10 years.” – Gen. Mark Welsh, Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force

“Our soldiers, sailors and Marines and their families should never have to face doubts about whether they will [be] deployed without proper training and equipment. The foundation of our – the all-volunteer force, as General Odierno has said, is trust. Sequestration will erode the trust that our young men and women in uniform, civil servants and families have in their leadership. And the cost of losing that trust is incalculable.” – Gen. Joseph Dunford, Commandant of the Marine Corps

The Bottom Line: Sequestration Puts Lives at Risk

Sen. King: Americans' lives are being put at risk by this policy. Would you agree with that, General Odierno?

Gen. Odierno: Yes, sir.

Sen. King: Admiral?

Adm. Greenert: Yes, sir, I do agree.

Gen. Welsh: Yes, sir.

Gen. Dunford: Yes, senator."

Sen. King: "That should be the headline. That Americans' lives are being put at risk… [B]y compromising readiness, by compromising morale, by compromising modernization, by compromising training, that's the inevitable result."

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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