The across-the-board spending cuts that would result if a “sequestration” mechanism in budget law kicks in March 1 will hollow out U.S. military forces faster than most Americans imagine, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Jan. 17.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said during a recent news briefing that if sequestration happens, the American military “will be less prepared in months and unprepared in a year.”
During an interview on his return trip from NATO meetings in Brussels, the general said the cuts would quickly bring about a new type of hollow force.
The chairman stressed that deployed and deploying service members will be exempted from the effects of a sequester. The United States will not send any service member overseas without the best preparation, equipment and supplies possible, he said.
This actually covers a great many people. Service members in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Kuwait, aboard ships at sea, and flying and supporting deployed aircraft “will continue to have our unwavering support,” Dempsey said. “We have a moral obligation to make sure that they are ready and the next [unit] to deploy is ready.”
If sequestration is triggered March 1 – six months into fiscal 2013 – the department will have only six months to absorb those cuts, the chairman noted. So, if the deployed force is ready, and the next force to deploy is getting ready, “there’s not going to be any operations and training money left for the rest of the force,” he said.
The forces after the “next to deploy” will be the ones hurting, Dempsey added.
The U.S. military force generation process is such that when a unit comes home from deployment, it generally dissipates. Coming back is the natural time for service members to transfer to other units, go to schools or get out of the service. “It’s an important point to remember: in our force management model, we are constantly rebuilding units,” Dempsey said.
Rebuilding these units entails beginning with individual training and working up through collective training. For ground units, it starts with individual skills and moves through training at the squad, platoon and company levels. Battalion- and brigade-level training follows that, the general explained.
“That’s why I’m saying that we will be unprepared in a year, because we won’t be able to go to that level of collective training,” he said. “Will we be able to go to the rifle range or go to the motor pool to turn a wrench? Sure. But we won’t be able to do the kind of live-fire training that pilots need. Flying hours [and] steaming hours will be cut back, and it’ll take about a year to feel the full effect.”
Sequestration will cause a hollow military, Dempsey said, albeit different from the hollow forces of the past. Personnel problems associated with the transition of the military from a drafted force to an all-volunteer force caused a hollow force in the late 1970s. In the 1990s, personnel issues were fine, but there were problems with equipment. “The military took a procurement holiday in order to protect to the greatest extent possible end strength and training,” the chairman said.
The kind of hollowness facing the military now is different, Dempsey said. “We’ve got the people. We’ve got the equipment that we need,” he explained. “But we won’t have the ability to train.”
The Abrams tank is going to remain the king of the battlefield through 2025, but tankers will not be able to train on the tank or maintain it properly, Dempsey said.
“What we’re experiencing is the potential for hollowness related to readiness,” he added.
The lack of training opportunities could affect personnel. Dempsey noted that this generation of service members had incredible responsibilities in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We pushed responsibility, authority, resources to the edge — to where captains and majors and lieutenant colonels had capabilities, responsibilities and authorities that I didn’t have as a major general,” he said.
With this generation, the military can’t “bring them back and sit them in a motor pool with no money to train,” Dempsey said.
“We haven’t even begun to model the effect of a prolonged readiness problem,” he said. “I can tell you that readiness problems always have an effect on retention.”