The services’ vice chiefs testified on readiness during a Capitol Hill hearing May 10, with most stressing the continuing need for overseas contingency operations funding.
“These continue to be challenging times for our nation’s military, and we’ve been at war now for over a decade,” Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, Army vice chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee’s readiness and management support subcommittee. “In fact, at no other time in history have America’s servicemen and women fought for so long a period with an all-volunteer force.”
Austin said the Army is focusing its efforts on balancing force structure, modernization and readiness as keys to success, but will need assistance from Congress with ensuring the continuation of overseas contingency operations funding.
“This funding is imperative to our ability to manage a gradual reduction of our end strength over the next five years from 560,000 [soldiers] to 490,000,” he said. “Lack of OCO funding will drive us to a steeper drawdown, primarily through involuntary separations and other means that could result in significant hardships for thousands of Army combat veterans and their families, and generate a large bill for unemployment and other related costs.”
Austin also noted the Army will need “reset” funding for two to three years after it completes the return of equipment from Afghanistan.
“Absent this funding, we will be required to accept risk in other areas at significant cost with a negative impact on readiness,” he said. “We are confident the strategy that we’ve developed will help us achieve our objectives.”
Navy Adm. Mark Ferguson, vice chief of naval operations, spoke to the committee regarding the state of the Navy’s readiness.
“We focused on funding the critical elements of readiness as we balanced our investments in future capability, operations and maintenance, personnel, training and spares,” he said. “Our budget proposes reductions in force structure and delays in the procurement of some new platforms to ensure the wholeness of our remaining force.
“Importantly, we invested in maintaining a sustainable deployment model to allow for the reset and stride of our forces in rotational deployments as well as in selected deployments and training for the fleet,” he continued. “Quite simply, we prioritized readiness and capability over capacity to ensure that we deliver a ready and relevant Navy now and in the future.”
Ferguson noted the Navy also depends on overseas contingency operations funds or similar supplemental funding to sustain its readiness.
Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, said his service has ensured forward deployed Marines are at the highest state of readiness possible, but still face challenges.
“Our forward-deployed units have personnel and equipment requirements that exceed standard allowances,” Dunford said. “The additional equipment is due to the nature of the fight in Afghanistan and the very distributed nature of operations. The additional personnel are required to support staffs and trainers for Afghan security forces.”
Dunford said the Marine Corps estimates ground equipment reset costs will be $3.2 billion based on combat losses, equipment restoration and extending the service life of selected items. “We believe it will take two to three years of overseas contingency funding to complete reset once our equipment returns from Afghanistan,” he said.
Gen. Phil M. Breedlove, Air Force vice chief of staff, told the panel that Dec. 17, 2011, marked the first time in 20 years that the Air Force did not fly an air-tasking sortie over Iraq.
“Despite fiscal pressures, there continues to be an increasing demand for air, space and cyber capability, which is evident in our nation’s new defense strategic guidance,” he said. “In order to keep faith with the American people and provide our unique capabilities upon which the entire joint team so greatly relies, it is imperative that we balance our force structure to preserve our readiness and maintain a risk-balanced force.”
Breedlove said the Air Force must rebalance its active and reserve components to meet joint force requirements without exposing the total force to unfavorable ratios of time deployed to time at home.
“While no plan is free of risk, our analysis tells us that we are at an increased, but manageable risk, as measured against this new strategic guidance,” he said. “As we responsibly rebalance this force, we remain committed to advancements in technology and future investments to continually sharpen our sword.
“Although we will be smaller,” he added, “we will remain an effective and ready force.”