WASHINGTON — More than half of the Air Force’s combat units will no longer be mission capable by July.
The Army will have to institute such deep cuts to base and facility upkeep that if a water main breaks in a barracks, soldiers might simply be told to shower elsewhere.
And the Navy, which has delayed one carrier group deployment, will cancel several more large deployments of sailors and Marines to locations around the globe.
After months of what-ifs and failed attempts at compromise, the sequester was officially activated Friday, forcing the Department of Defense to absorb billions of dollars in across-the-board spending cuts. But while the effects might not be immediately obvious, defense leaders say that within a few months, the military’s availability to respond quickly to unforeseen events will be severely and irrevocably harmed.
“Readiness will definitely be impacted, and in relative terms. … I would say it will be immediate and it will be severe and it will be longer-lasting than you might expect,” Col. James MacFarlane, the Air Force’s director of operations, integration and readiness, told Stars and Stripes.
For the Air Force, that means immediately curtailing home-station training flights for units not deployed or looking to deploy soon, MacFarlane said. Cutting the flying hours means airmen will drop below “acceptable readiness levels” by mid-May, and most units will no longer be mission capable by July. Returning to the current readiness levels would take at least six months and increased funding.
That’s a problem, MacFarlane said, because defense strategic guidance essentially requires the entire Air Force – including Air Guard and reserves – to be ready all the time.
“We really can’t afford to take time to get ready to get ready ... we have to field ready forces almost at a moment’s notice,” he said.
Another potential long-term effect for the Air Force is pilot education. The service will lose about a month of pilot training, meaning 12 percent fewer pilots trained. And since the Air Force is already training near capacity, it can’t simply train extra pilots if and when Congress sends extra funding. That will impact the force for the next 10 to 15 years, MacFarlane said.
The Navy plans to cancel training and deployments for thousands of sailors and Marines, including the USS Bataan amphibious strike group, the Ronald Reagan carrier strike group and the Carl Vinson carrier strike group. Getting those forces back to ready will also take time: It generally takes an amphibious strike group about nine months to prepare for a deployment.
The Navy also plans to cancel some F-35B Joint Strike Fighter testing, meaning delays for a program already seven years and hundreds of billions of dollars over budget. And if the cuts are not reversed at some point, the Navy will have 30 to 40 fewer ships in the fleet by 2030, according to information provided by the service.
Army officials have attempted the link the looming funding cuts and budget shortfalls to the devil – noting that the continuing resolution funding the Pentagon in the absence of a real budget underfunds the Army’s operations and maintenance budget by $6 billion. The service also is facing a $6 billion shortfall in overseas contingency operations funding, and sequestration means another $6 billion in cuts to operations and maintenance.
The “immediate and long-lasting” effects the service has outlined, though, are mainly to base operations and support. Some family programs may have to be cut, youth sports are likely to be severely reduced and child care centers may need to reduce their hours, Brig. Gen. Curt Rauhut said in a roundtable with reporters.
Prioritizing training for those soldiers who are deployed or about to deploy means that everyone else – about 78 percent of the force – will see their training cut, said Major Gen. Karen Dyson, director of the Army budget office. That impact that won’t be obvious right away, but “will manifest itself in FY14 and beyond,” she said.
Sequestration also means no funding for any restoration or modernization projects this year, and about $400 million of service contracts are under review, said Rauhut, the director of resource management for installation management command. If those contracts aren’t renewed, it would take about 150 days to restart them later, Dyson said.
“A soldier working in a facility, or a soldier living in a barracks that has a leaky roof, we may not be able to fund that, to repair that roof,” Rauhut said. “Or say a window is broken. We may not be able to fix that window. We may have to provide a piece of plywood, or electrical tape.”
Rauhut told Stars and Stripes that the Army has asked for $250 million to be able to cover “bare minimum” maintenance and upkeep related to life, health and safety for the rest of the year. But even with that funding, the service won’t have enough for any restoration projects or other maintenance, he said.
The Marines have not offered details about how, exactly, the across-the-board budget cuts will impact them. But sequestration cuts combined with budget shortfalls caused by Congress’ failure to pass a defense funding bill this year “creates unacceptable levels of risk,” Commandant Gen. James Amos said in a Congressional hearing earlier this week.
“I have done everything with my authority to date to preserve the tenets of a ready Marine Corps. I will continue to do so,” he said. “But only by stripping away the foundations of the long-term readiness of the total force.”
Stopping exercises and training around the world means the U.S. military will be less engaged, and relationships with other nations will suffer, he said.
“When things happen around the world and we need to be globally engaged and leading as a nation … you can’t surge trust in the middle of a crisis,” Amos said.