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Top military leaders: Stop continuing sequestration before capabilities are jeopardized

WASHINGTON -- A House committee heard an alarming message on Wednesday from the leaders of the top four U.S. armed forces about the continuing impacts of forced federal budget cuts that would slice into the “muscle and bone” of the military’s maintenance and readiness.

The House Armed Services Committee heard from the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy that a continuation of sequestration would dangerously jeopardize the ability of all four branches to stay capable and ready for action.

“There should be no misunderstanding: Cuts of this magnitude will have a significant impact on the global security climate, the perceptions of our enemies and the confidence of our allies,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos told the committee. “The abruptness and inflexibility of sequestration will force us to mortgage the condition of our equipment and could erode our readiness to dangerous levels. The indiscriminate nature of sequestration is creating its very own national security problem,” he said.

“Less tanks, less Bradleys, less M-16s, less trucks, less mortars, less artillery systems. It impacts all of our workload because we’re getting smaller. And I think it’s too small,” said Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff.

Committee members listened soberly, and even Republicans who had pushed for the spending cuts said that sequestration was a failed experiment. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash, was even more blunt, calling sequestration “a Latin word for ‘stupid.’ “

“This was a serious error made by Congress. We need to acknowledge it was a stupid mistake and correct it,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala.

Sequestration, which started March 1, was part of the 2011 Budget Control Act agreement between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans demanding federal spending cuts. It is forcing cuts of $1.2 trillion in defense and domestic spending over the next 10 years, including $85 billion in the current fiscal year.

Congress is required to pass some initiative by the end of this month -– the end of the current fiscal year -– to keep the government running into Fiscal Year 2014. But because of political paralysis, it is almost certain that the House and Senate will simply pass a continuing resolution, which would continue the current budget and funding levels. Since sequestration is a part of the current budget, it would continue as well.

All four military leaders spoke bluntly about the impact of continuing cuts. Odierno said the Army will likely go through force reductions for at least the next three years, calling it “a huge problem.”

Navy Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, said the Navy would cope with the cuts by reducing or canceling maintenance for ships –- resulting in a reduced life for its fleet –- and continuing a hiring freeze for civilians. The Navy would lose a Virginia-class submarine, a combat ship and a float-forward staging base. The delivery of the first Ford-class aircraft supercarrier and the midlife overhaul of the George Washington aircraft carrier would be delayed. Acquisition of 11 tactical aircraft would be canceled.

He predicted the Navy would have a fleet of 255 ships in 2020 -- 30 fewer than today.

“I understand the pressing need for the nation to get its fiscal house in order, and I’m on board with that, but it’s imperative we do it in a thoughtful manner to ensure we sustain an appropriate wartime fighting capability and maintain our capability,” Greenert said.

Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, said this year that his service furloughed 164,000 civilians who work for the active-duty and Guard and Reserve force. That represented the equivalent of 20 percent of their pay this year. Welsh noted the average age of an Air Force bomber is now 32, and that the Air Force stands at 506,000 members, down from 725,000 when he entered in 1976.

“The uncertain and arbitrary nature of sequestration makes it a reckless way to fund the world’s greatest military,” he said. “Furthermore, the blunt, indiscriminate mechanism of sequestration undermines the combat capability of the United States Air Force and the entire joint force, and is unworthy of the men and women who risk their lives in service to our nation.”

Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., lambasted the Republican-controlled House for refusing to negotiate with the Senate over a FY 2014 budget this month, creating the likely continuation of sequestration.

“Quite frankly, you should be questioning us,” Cooper told the four military leaders. “Past generations have done a better job of funding our military than we have. … The message of this hearing is that we on this side should be doing better. If sequestration were unleashed on us, we would call it an act of war. And yet, we’ve done it to ourselves.”

rushing.jt@stripes.com
 

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