The weakening of the Defense Department’s readiness continued today as President Obama’s FY 2014 budget proposed whacking billions more from a military force already reeling from $500 billion in sequestration cuts.
Undersecretary of Defense Bob Hale, comptroller, told reporters at the Pentagon today that the changes already in effect for this year since mandatory cuts went into effect “are going to have significant and adverse effects, particularly on military readiness.”
“Some programs are exempt or protected. The military personnel funding exempt by law, embarrassingly so, are Senate-confirmed political appointees,” Hale said. “By policy, we’ll exempt Afghan wartime operations, our wounded warrior programs, and some others. And we will protect — that is, to the extent we can — we’ll avoid cuts in some of our deployed forces, especially first-to-fight forces in Korea and other deployed forces, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets in critical theaters — we don’t want to blind ourselves — and in general we want to make clear to our potential adversaries that even though we’re having some budgetary problems, we are still there, and we will protect the United States and its allies.”
“Most of the rest of the programs are going to get cut, sometimes by a lot… We’ll have to make major cutbacks in training and maintenance.”
Congress has been notified about the beginning of the civilian furlough process, and the TRICARE military health program has “some special problems.”
The Air Force will stand down 12 combat-coded fighter and bomber squadrons. The Army has already had to cancel seven combat training center rotations and five brigade-level exercises. Over the last week, the Navy canceled five sailings, including the cruising of the USNS Comfort to SOUTHCOM. Both the Navy and Marine Corps have cut flying hours.
“When you add all this up, to be very candid, what we’ve had to do, beginning a few months ago, is to start to burn readiness, as the chairman mentioned,” Hale said. “We’re not adding readiness or maintaining readiness. We’re burning readiness.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, though, defended his boss’ “strategic guidance” as “sustaining the quality of the all-volunteer force.”
“We need to plan wisely for a long-term future of budget constraints, with thorough, clearheaded analysis that is anchored in the president’s defense strategic guidance,” Hagel said.
But it was noted to Hagel that his optimism was based on a budget plan that assumed Congress would pass Obama’s deficit reduction plan to replace sequestration and the Pentagon would get hit for $150 billion over the next decade instead of the current $500 billion. And, if by some remote chance the budget calling for $600 billion in new taxes would pass the House, it kicks the can on those defense cuts beyond the terms of Obama and Hagel.
“Unlike sequester, these cuts are backloaded, occurring mainly in the years beyond FY 2018. While no agency welcomes further budget cuts, the president’s deficit reduction proposal requested in this budget gives the department time, and that’s important, time, to achieve these longer-term savings, without disproportionate harm to modernization and readiness, the budget categories what will provide the most immediate savings, but also encompass most of our military capabilities,” Hagel said, brushing off assertions that it’s an Obama budget gimmick.
House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) had a far different view of the president’s strategic guidance abilities.