With ongoing sequestration looming and a continuing resolution likely, military officials Wednesday inundated Congress with a distressing portrait of the military under these compounded conditions.
“I do not consider myself an alarmist, I consider myself a realist,” said Gen. Raymond Odierno, Army chief of staff. And that realistic scenario is an Army that may not regain full readiness and modernization until 2018, and might not be able to “conduct even one sustained major combat operation.”
Over nearly three hours of testimony and questions, House Armed Services Committee members repeatedly blamed themselves for these dire straights as officials from each service delineated its worst case scenario: hiring freezes, idle fighter jets, deferred carrier maintenance, zero modernization initiatives and protracted personnel training.
“What keeps me up at night is if I’m asked to deploy soldiers and they are not ready,” Odierno said.
Eighty-five percent of the Army’s current brigade combat teams — the basic deployable unit — would not meet their training requirements under the 2014 sequestration and a continuing resolution, he said. And the overall Army would lose 26 percent of its active force, down to at least 420,000.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert envisioned a 2020 fleet of 255 to 260 ships, roughly 30 ships short of what it is now and 40 short of what he would like it to be. The scaled-back fleet would mean fewer globally deployed ships, no re-balance to the Asia-Pacific region (as President Barack Obama directed in his first term), and no more premium on supporting Middle Eastern partner nations.
The Navy could respond to one major offensive threat, but only deny (make an attack seem unwise) if presented with two such threats.
“The [continuing resolution] stops me, puts me at last year, and we have to operate to meet the commitments of today,” Greenert said, which could mean canceling 34 of 54 maintenance and repair projects, the equivalent of 8,000 jobs lost, according to Greenert.
And the Marine Corps is getting desperately close to its floor to be able to meet basic requirements, said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos. From a high point of 202,000 in 2006, the Marines have plans to reduce its force to 182,100 by the end of 2016. With the sequestration-continuing resolution double threat, it won’t be able to even afford that.
Amos said he could go down to 174,000. But that’s it — if the U.S. wants a Marine Corps ready for a full-scale war.
“174,000 is a floor as far as I’m concerned,” Amos said. “That force is the minimum force to go off to war. … We are consuming tomorrow’s ‘seed corn’ to feed today’s requirements, leaving ever less to plant for the future.”
While potential cuts to the Air Force — 4 percent of current airmen and 9 percent of current aircraft — are not as severe as other services, the service would cut up to 50 percent of its modernization programs, said Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff.
“Sequestration-level cuts would severely threaten each of our top priority programs as well every single lower-priority program,” Welsh said. Focus would concentrate on the long-awaited F-35 fighter jet and long-range strike capabilities, he added. But much of the aircraft inventory — 24 years old on average — would be ignored.
“The mainstays of our bomber and air-refueling fleets are both from the Eisenhower era,” Welsh said.
Come Sept. 30 — the fiscal year end — the military will know better if these hypotheticals will become reality.
“I ask Congress to put political differences aside and pass funding bills that give us some stability – both in the near term and the long term,” Welsh said. “If not, we’ll have these same conversations year after year.”