WASHINGTON — Budget cuts and spending restrictions are forcing defense leaders into measures that are “basically hollowing out the force through sequestration,” the commander of U.S. Pacific Command said today.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s letter sent to Congress yesterday is “an accurate description of what’s happening to the force at-large,” Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III told Pentagon reporters.
Hagel’s letter outlined the department’s “plan B” for defense spending if sequester continues, which would mean a roughly $50 billion cut per year over a decade. The secretary warned lawmakers this would necessitate a RIF, or involuntary reductions in force, for civilian employees and a severe slowdown to military modernization. Hagel’s worst-case scenario included an essential halt to recruitment, change-of-station moves and promotions.
Locklear said that before finalizing the approach he outlined in his letter, Hagel “did reach out, as always, to all the [geographic combatant commanders] to get our perspectives on what’s happening to readiness.”
The admiral added that as the letter describes, the driving forces that would make those measures necessary involve both “the money … [and] the way that the money is being managed.”
The law protects much of the defense budget, he said, so funding cuts have to come mostly in operations and maintenance accounts, while leaders must also push resources to essential operations such as those in Afghanistan and North Korea.
“What happens is that the services are then required to not overhaul ships, not fix airplanes [and] not do training at home,” Locklear said. “… So we’re basically hallowing out the force through sequestration.”
The Navy and the military he joined 41 years ago were hollow, the admiral said. Hollowing out a high-performing military force, he told reporters, “… doesn’t take [more than] a year or two.”
Shrinking the force can be done, he said, but it must be managed efficiently to bring a high quality result. “And the sequestration is not allowing that to happen,” he said.
Pacom cancelled several exercises this year alone because of the budget pressure, Locklear said.
“We maintain the main exercises with our allies, even though in some of those exercises we actually dialed down the amount of participation we had,” he said, adding most of the cancellations were of U.S.-only exercises.
“For today, if you ask the chief of the Air Force, he’ll tell you that about one-third of his airplanes and air crews back in the United States are not flying,” Locklear said. “The number of steaming days and flying hours that are allocated to me in the Pacific … are being decremented. It just pushes the risk up for those service members who are potentially out there in harm’s way. And that’s going to exacerbate through ‘14 if the sequestration is not relieved.”