America’s military superiority is founded on training and readiness, and the fiscal crisis facing the country threatens to strip away that edge, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress Feb. 26.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, along with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos and National Guard Bureau Chief Army Gen. Frank J. Grass, testified before the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee on fiscal challenges facing the Department of Defense.
The chiefs discussed the effects of sequester – $47 billion in across-the-board 2013 defense spending cuts that will take effect March 1 if Congress doesn’t act – and the continuing resolution, which guides government spending in the absence of an approved budget.
If sequestration occurs, “it will significantly undermine your Air Force’s readiness and responsiveness today,” Welsh said. “It will significantly impact our civilian workforce in the coming months. And its impact on modernization will clearly affect our future capability.”
Welsh said two-thirds of Air Force combat units will curtail flying training starting in March. “They’ll drop below acceptable readiness levels, by our definitions, by mid-May,” he added. “Most will be completely non-mission-capable as a unit by July.”
If a 2014 budget is in place by October, he said, it will take the Air Force six months to regain its present level of training.
The chiefs asked for Congress’ help in giving them some spending flexibility if the continuing resolution remains. Authority to move funds between accounts could help prevent the current unavoidable waste Greenert decried in the Navy. The shortfall created by the continuing resolution, he said, “has compelled us to cancel ship and aircraft maintenance, reduce operations, curtail training for forces that will soon deploy, and [notify] 186,000 of our civilians of a possible furlough.”
“We’ve lost $600 million in February because of … just lost opportunities,” the Navy’s top officer said. “Through the month of March, if we don’t have that opportunity to reallocate funds, it would be another $1.2 billion, and it just continues to grow and cascade as we go through the summer.”
Greenert told the panel an appropriations bill for this fiscal year is necessary to allow the department to distribute resources in a deliberate manner.
The Army chief said he started his career in a hollow Army, and he doesn’t want to end it there.
“We simply cannot take the readiness of our force for granted,” he said. “If we do not have the resources to train and equip the force, our soldiers – our young men and women – are the ones who will pay the price, potentially with their lives.”