WASHINGTON — Ten years from now, 80 percent of the Army’s budget will be devoted to providing pay and benefits if compensation growth continues at its current rate, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said Monday.

The service branch currently spends 46 percent of its budget on compensation — higher than the 42 percent Odierno said he thinks is ideal.

With tight budgets imposed by sequestration and other defense cuts, continued compensation growth would force the Army to scale back procurements, accept a lower level of readiness and cut end strength, he said.

“We can’t operate like that,” Odierno told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank.

The Pentagon has been pushing for a slowed rate of pay growth for servicemembers, as well as higher health care fees and copays for retirees, but Congress has steadily pushed back. This year, for instance, the House of Representatives version of the National Defense Authorization Bill included a 1.8 percent troop pay raise, nearly doubling the 1 percent pay raise the Obama administration wanted.

The fractional difference compounds over the long run, Odierno said.

“The rate of compensation is growing too quickly,” he said. “We don’t have to necessarily end some of our compensation benefits, but we have to reduce the growth. We have to get it back in line with what is reasonable.”

Odierno also warned the audience that sequestration, automatic budget cuts that slashed $37 billion out of the current year’s budget and which could take $52 billion next year, has severely degraded training for much of the Army.

If cuts continues and the Army is called on to handle a major contingency, he predicted the cuts will play out tragically.

Operations will take longer to mount, he said, and added, “Most importantly, it probably means more casualties.” Twitter: @ChrisCarroll_

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