Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno claimed on January 24 that if there is not a legislative solution to the long-standing budget impasse soon, “we will create a hollow force,” drastically hampering military readiness even further.
Chief Naval Officer Admiral Jonathan Greenert finally recognized on Friday that if sequestration is allowed to occur, vast cuts in personnel and maintenance funding will be necessary. Between the Continuing Resolution (CR) forcing the military to operate under the outdated 2012 budget and the impending threat of defense sequestration, U.S. military readiness is becoming dangerously constrained.
In preparation for the impending budget gutting, the Navy will cancel scheduled maintenance on 30 ships and 250 aircraft, terminate temporary civilian employees, and enact a civilian hiring freeze. Admiral Greenert warned that “sequestration might delay it from deploying aircraft carriers next fiscal year.” Under the sequestration budget, the Navy will “stop nearly all nondeployed operations for training and exercises.” This means that by fiscal year (FY) 2014, Greenert says, “we will likely not have trained replacements for our deployed units.”
In addition, once these training and maintenance operations are suspended, U.S. ships and troops will need another nine months of training and maintenance before they are ready to deploy again. These cuts may save money in the short term, but this will mean even more expenses down the road as equipment requires more significant and costly repairs.
While the chiefs are only now highlighting Congress’s lack of commitment to rebuilding a dangerously underfunded military, these readiness issues have been compounding for quite some time. Stars and Stripes reported last May that over one-fifth of Navy ships were not combat ready, and “fewer than half of the service’s deployed combat aircraft are ready for their missions at any given time.” The USS Essex, a prime example of the consequences of underfunding operations and maintenance, was unable to complete two missions in the past year because of insufficient maintenance.
The U.S. aviation force is in a similar state. Fifty-year-old B-52 bombers are still flying today. Lieutenant David A. Deptula II piloted the same F-15 that his father, retired three-star general David A. Deptula, first flew 30 years earlier. These aircraft are being flown for twice their original expected lifetime, and the consequences are dangerous for service members and the U.S.’s ability to carry out necessary operations abroad.
Sequestration will make these existing readiness issues seem miniscule. With America’s standing commitments in the Middle East, a pivot toward the Pacific, and growing threats in Africa, now is not the time to shrink defense capabilities. Congress needs to show its commitment to provide for the common defense, and pass a budget that will restore the military to a level of readiness that can address these issues capably.
Genevieve Syverson is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm.