YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The top U.S. military leader in Japan says sequestration could hit readiness for U.S. forces in the Pacific with fewer naval patrols and aircraft sorties, cuts to maintenance programs and less training with allies. Officials with U.S. Forces Korea also warned servicemembers on the peninsula this week that big changes are ahead there if the spending cuts go through.
The Pentagon faces $40 billion in spending cuts through the end of September and additional reductions in spending in future years under a sequester that is set to begin Friday.
While it would take time for the full impact to be felt, Department of Defense leaders have indicated the cuts will be “devastating” to the military, U.S. Forces Japan commander Gen. Salvatore A. Angelella told the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on Thursday.
“(Readiness) won’t go to zero tomorrow,” he said, adding that he hasn’t yet been told to cut training, operations or maintenance levels.
Civilian defense employees in Japan have already been told they may be furloughed a day a week starting in April, and military leaders have warned that additional measures will also be needed.
If the sequester goes ahead, component commands in Hawaii — U.S. Army Pacific, Marine Forces Pacific, U.S. Pacific Fleet, and Pacific Air Forces — will determine which areas must be cut, Angelella said. He expects to discuss the issue with their commanders during a video conference next week.
Department of Defense officials have also said the cuts could impact the military’s ability to respond to natural disasters.
Angelella, who spent the first months of his command here telling his troops to “institutionalize” lessons learned from U.S. military relief efforts following Japan’s March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, said his forces might have to “prioritize” if they respond to a future event.
The USFK commander also has warned that tough times may be ahead for many on the peninsula, but details remain unclear.
“I am deeply concerned about the potential direct impact of sequestration on our civilian workforce and their families,” Gen. James Thurman said in a statement posted this week on social media websites and sent to component commanders and senior enlisted leaders.
If sequestration continues for a substantial period, “The furlough will affect the majority of our civilian workforce with some exceptions,” Thurman said.
“USFK will work to ensure … if furloughs are executed, they are done in a consistent and appropriate manner.”
About 3,100 appropriated-fund Department of Defense employees are in South Korea. At a community town hall meeting Thursday for Area I — the northernmost region — U.S. Army Garrison-Red Cloud Commander Col. John M. Scott echoed Thurman’s sentiments, saying: “Some hard times ahead.”
Garrison officials said if sequestration does take effect, details of how it will impact the U.S. military bases in South Korea would probably be announced around March 15, with furloughs starting approximately April 26.
“How we implement (sequestration-related cutbacks) is still to be decided,” Scott said. “The jury is still out on how it’s going to affect” Department of Defense Education Activity schools.
But, he said, any furloughs will not impact Korean nationals employed on bases because their salaries are only partially funded by the U.S. and come from a different part of the budget.
Scott said furloughs will pose a “management skills” challenge, and hopefully — like a duck on a pond — all will appear about the same above the water, while below the surface everyone is paddling a bit harder.
“It’s not going to be a complete shutdown of services,” he said.
Stars and Stripes staffer Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.