During the government shutdown negotiations Democrats resounded that the Republicans had "already won" by being allowed to start new budget negotiations based on sequester level funding. Yes, while the spending levels closely mirror that of Rep. Paul Ryan's budget, Republicans are very dismayed by the devastating cuts to defense-making sequestration unpopular across the ideological spectrum. The notion was echoed numerous times at this morning's Senate Armed Service Committee hearing, "The Impact of Sequestration on the National Defense."
The four witnesses testifying were General Raymond T. Odierno USA, Chief of Staff of the Army, Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert USN, Chief of Naval Operations, General James F. Amos USMC, Commandant of the Marine Corps, and General Mark A Welsh III USAF, Chief of Staff of the Air Force.
It was clear in each participant's opening statements that sequestration is crippling our armed services, poses security risks, and endangers the lives of those serving overseas. As ranking member James Inhofe (R-OK) noted, the world is not getting any safer. He even went as far as to almost fondly reminisce about the Cold War stating, "...things were predictable" and now we have rogue nations which further complicates measures.
Each branch is suffering from drawdowns, furloughs, and program cuts. General Odierno stated that if Congress does not act, the Army will have to continue to make significant reductions and will not be able to sustain major operations.
Two major trends in this morning's hearing were readiness and modernization. Due to sequestration, each branch has been forced to cut its size, personnel, and training which ultimately affects their readiness to respond timely to conflicts. Admiral Greenert noted that the Navy's readiness ensures our commitment to our allies and secures our global interests. The Navy would prefer to have two amphibious and two carrier strike groups at the ready. However, in vital regions, they are unable to fulfill this desire. General Amos lamented on how the drawdown will virtually affect readiness in that the Marine Corps wants to have over 186,000 troops available. Yet after 2011 and the Budget Control Act, this number was cut to 182,000 and continues to wain. Fewer trained fighters and programs equates to slower deployment times which favors our enemies and can lead to a greater number of American casualties. General Welsh stated the Air Force has had to cut its readiness to pay for the sequester. They have been forced to divest entire fleets and now must prioritize conflict regions to keep their remaining fleets in active service.
Modernization is also affected because each branch cannot afford to update key technologies and vehicles to stay current. It appeared General Amos and the Marine Corps was the most hard pressed expressing, "We have no more meat on our bones." The Marine Corps has no more money to carry over from FY 2013 to FY 2014-their funds are dry. He pointed to the Marine Corps becoming a "hollow force" without proper training, sending unready, unprepared troops into combat which will lead to greater casualties.
Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) commented that the armed services were able to cope with the sequester in the past by using temporary, ad hoc, scrambling, measures such as deferring certain costs and delaying training rather than making program changes which would be more difficult to reverse. He asked the witnesses if this model can continued to be used. The witnesses felt that they have already done everything they can and any further cutting of programs will compromise their effectiveness, readiness, and purpose. General Welsh stated the Air Force is starting FY 2014 with $500 million less than the previous year. They are dropping behind the power curb. Additionally, contingency plans are being negatively affected by the lack of funding which is potentially dangerous given the absence of necessary technology, modernization and fully trained soldiers. The Air Force must be able to fight forces ten years from now yet with cuts to modernization, this ability will be severely hindered.
Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) were skeptical of certain efforts and practices by the armed forces. McCain was especially concerned with certain cost overruns, grilling Admiral Greenert about a $2 billion cost overrun on the Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier asking him if anyone was fired over it. "I don't know," replied Greenert. "You should know," McCain harshly interrupted. McCain was concerned the military is asking for more money yet they have these significant cost overruns for which they are not taking appropriate accountability for in his mind. The other witnesses expressed their concerns for other overruns stating accountability is of the utmost importance. McCain also expressed concern over the civilian contractors and how civilian staffs have grown "astronomical." Entitlement reform and military health care was another important point McCain brought up as a future cost saving measure.
Chambliss stated how Defense needs to spend more money but his concern was how that money is being spent. In a prolonged monologue, Chambliss digressed about tanks and military vehicles which are currently not being used and how the military is asking for more money to build more which they do not need. He also questioned the medical research in which the military is currently engaged, stating, "It is not the military's place, in my opinion," to conduct research in prostate, breast, and lung cancer. The NIH is doing great things in the field of cancer research and they should be the ones charged with this task. To the conservatives on the committee, money must be saved at every avenue possible.
The United States has the mightiest military force in the world but its future could be in jeopardy if sequestration is allowed to continue. It's clear from the testimony of the members of the armed services that the budget cuts of the sequester are drastically affecting the readiness and responsiveness of our military to present and future threats. As General Welsh poignantly orated, "Sequestration is a horrible business model." Chairman Levin noted how success is essential in the upcoming budget conference to overcome sequestration. While conservatives and the military personnel alike are always asking for more Defense money, it's clear the sequester is wreaking havoc on our military capabilities. A comprehensive solution must be reached. As General Welsh put it, many pilots are getting bored because their flying programs are being cut and they are spending more time grounded. He had never heard of pilots being bored...ever.