The Service Chiefs Look at the Military’s Future Under Sequestration


2013-11-12 In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on November 7, 2013, the Service Chiefs addressed the challenges the military is facing with sequestration.

They addressed what the future might look like if sequestration was not jettisoned.

Sydney Freedberg, Jr. in an overview piece on the hearings provided a good sense of the basic thrust of the arguments:

The 10 years of sequestration cuts required in current law would take the Navy from 286 ships today, with roughly a third deployed around the world at any given time, to around 255 or 260 ships by 2020, Greenert said. “If we reduce force structure to a level where we are not out and about, our allies are worrying about our reliability [and] we’re not deterring,” he said. “Potential adversaries can get out of hand.”

If deterrence does fail, shortfalls in training and maintenance funds have already forced Greenert to reduce the number of aircraft carriers ready to “surge” from US homeports from three to one…..

 “It takes a long time to build the force, the people,” agreed the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Amos….

Lastly, and more enthusiastically, the Air Force Chief of Staff chimed in with his critique. “SCMR was underlined by an assumption that our force was fully ready, and that allowed you to execute the strategy,” said Gen. Mark Welsh. “We’re clearly not there today.”

If your force is just barely big enough to win a major war, then you’d better to be able to get all of it to the warzone in short order. Setting aside for a moment whether or not the Strategic Choices and Management Review sets the size of the future force too low, sequestration has already reduced the military’s readiness to respond.

“This is the lowest readiness level I’ve seen within our army since I’ve been serving, for the last 37 years,” Gen. Odierno told the senators.

It’s not just the Army, either. To fit under the sequestration caps for fiscal year 2014, the Air Force would cut flying hours by up to 15 percent, reducing routine training and cancelling some major wargames outright. “As a result,” read Gen. Welsh’s prepared testimony, “many of our flying units will be unable to fly at the rates required to maintain mission readiness for three to four months at a time.”

As for the Navy’s nine carrier air wings, Adm. Greenert is counting on congressional authority to “reprogram” money – i.e. to raid lower-priority accounts – just to give all of them the minimum amount of flying time required to be certified as safe to fly, the so-called tactical hard deck. “That doesn’t solve readiness, but it gets it to a level that we can sustain this reduced level,” he said with a grim chuckle. “Otherwise we start spiraling” even further down and ground as many as five air wings altogether, Greenert told reporters after the hearing. The remaining four wings will be at higher levels of readiness, either deployed on carriers at sea or about to go.

The Marine Corps, by contrast, has not cut readiness – but only at the price of slashing everything else, from base maintenance to weapons programs. That can’t go on indefinitely, the commandant said. “I’m paying that price to maintain that readiness, to be your crisis response force, but that will only last probably not later than 2017. I’ll start seeing erosion in around a year and a half,” said Gen. Amos. “We are headed towards a force in not too many years that will be hollow back home and not ready to deploy,” meaning that Marines not currently aboard ship on global patrol will not be trained, equipped, and ready to go to war.

“If they do deploy in harm’s way,” Amos warned, “we’ll end up with more casualties.”

The testimony of the Service Chiefs can be downloaded below: