This story has been corrected.
WASHINGTON — From munitions to missiles, top officials of all four U.S. services on Wednesday told a congressional panel that continued forced spending cuts will bring “historic lows” that would seriously threaten the military’s readiness and capability.
Testifying before the Tactical and Land Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, the officials repeatedly warned about the effects of sequestration in fiscal 2014, stressing that the instability and uncertainty of the cuts make it impossible to plan for new weapons, ships, planes and other hardware, and maintenance is being deferred on the military’s current fleet, they said.
They did not mince words. Heidi Shyu, the Army’s assistant secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology, called the continued cuts “devastating.”
“The prospect of sequestration-level reductions through FY 2021 threatens to lower Army investment in soldier equipment to historic lows as a result of steep and sudden reductions required under the current law caps.”
Shyu told the panel. “In short, the Army faces an unprecedented challenge in delivering capability to soldiers now and well into the future.”
She wasn’t alone. Sean Stackley, an assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, said the addition of three major warships, 25 planes and about 400 missiles would need to be canceled. Maintenance would be deferred on 200 aircraft, he added, and ammunition levels would dip below the Navy’s minimum inventory requirements.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Moeller, deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and programs, told the subcommittee that sequestration would “severely threaten” the Air Force’s top three priority purchases: the KC-46 tanker, the F-35 fighter, and the Long Range Strike Bomber.
“Tankers are the lifeblood of our joint force’s ability to respond to crises and contingencies around the world, and bombers are essential to our nation’s ability to project power,” Moeller said. “If America expects its Air Force to dominate the skies in future conflicts, modernization and recapitalization are not optional.”
For the Marine Corps, F/A-18A-D Hornet squadrons “face the biggest challenge with regards to funding reductions and depot maintenance backlogs,” said Lt. Gen. Glenn Walters, deputy commandant for programs and resources. Specifically, Walters said nondeployed squadrons would have their available aircraft reduced from seven to four – well below the minimum requirement of 12 aircraft.
Sequestration began in March and will take another estimated $50 billion out of the Pentagon budget in January. DOD officials have expressed particular frustration with the cuts because of the department’s complex and built-in spending systems.
Unpopular with many lawmakers, sequestration could be averted during budget talks between Democrats and Republicans scheduled for November and December. However, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky vowed last week that Republicans would insist that it continue.
As damaging as sequestration is, in their view, the officials emphasized that it is compounded by another of Congress’ decisions – the decision to pass a continuing resolution to keep funding the government on a short-term basis, instead of a proper, long-term budget. That makes it virtually impossible to plan for multi-year procurements, often leading to higher costs because single-item purchases can be more expensive.
Committee members listened soberly and said they were sympathetic — but they stopped short of guaranteeing that sequestration would not continue in January. Several pointed out that they had voted against sequestration and said they were proud they had done so.
“This should not be sugarcoated — these impacts are real, and they should be avoided,” said subcommittee chairman Michael Turner, R-Ohio.
“I have grave concerns about our readiness,” said Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio. “I’ve seen the numbers, at least on the Army side, and clearly it is not a force that is ready to take on the problems of the world. And from what I’ve seen recently, we cut our military and then deploy them. We ask them to go into Libya, or Syria. This is a combination that can’t go on … We are asking way too much with way too little.”
The officials were specific. Shyu said 192 Army programs would be jeopardized, including 59 planned “new start programs.” Those include the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS), a digital upgrade to Black Hawk helicopters, up to 800 rockets for the Guided Multiple Launcher Rocket System (GMLRS) and 14 different upgrades to the Enhanced Launcher Electronic System (ELES) Patriot launching system.
“Every program and every portfolio of weapon systems in the Army will be directly affected if sequestration continues to occur,” Shyu said. “The potential for inflexible and indiscriminate reductions applied equally at the program, project and activity level would impost significant reductions on the resources available to design, develop, procure and sustain soldier equipment.”
The purchase of 12 Apache helicopters would also be canceled — eight were already canceled in the past fiscal year – and 11 Chinook helicopters would not be bought, which would expose the Army to violation of a procurement contract at a cost of $77 million in liability expenses and an eventual cost increase of $1.4 billion.
In the 2013 fiscal year, Shyu said sequestration already caused 22,000 Army workers to be furloughed and about 2,600 civilian and contract personnel to be released. Maintenance was deferred on 172 planes, more than 900 vehicles, nearly 2,000 weapons and more than 10,000 pieces of communications equipment. Shyu estimated the deferred costs totaled $73 million.
Army employees are already stressed because of the federal fiscal climate, she said.
“Their lives are being disrupted tremendously by the continuous stress of operating under a continuing resolution, sequestration, furloughs and the shutdown,” she said. “These events have made government employment very unattractive, which will severely impact our efforts to hire and retain the best and brightest talent.”
Development of the Army’s Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP) would also be jeopardized, as well as upgrades to the MQ-1 Gray Eagle. Combat vehicles would also be affected, with delays to upgrades to the Abrams tank and Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle and a one-year delay in the development of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV). The purchase of nearly 1,200 Precision Guidance Kit (PGK) fuses and 285 Excalibur precision munitions would also likely be delayed, as well as missile systems such as the Laser Designator Range Finder (LLDR) and up to 20 Patriot missiles.
Lastly, Shyu said the Army would curtail up to 120 new grants for research at various universities and terminate 40 or more existing grants, as well as some current programs for students.