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.
“Two months ago, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified before my committee that our military could not absorb any additional cuts and continue to carry out the missions the country has assigned to them,” McKeon said. ”In the ensuing weeks the situation in Syria became more volatile, we are in a stand-off with North Korea, and we appear to be opening a North African front in the War on Terror.”
“In other words, we are already adding to what we have asked our military to do while the president cuts their resources. Now, with no assessment of strategic impact, the president has proposed yet another arbitrary cut of $120 billion from the military.”
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, said Obama’s budget “would add $8.2 trillion in new debt and will ultimately cause the country to spend more on interest payments than on national defense.”
“When it comes to his budget request for defense, the president failed to address the unprecedented resource challenges facing our military and failed to even acknowledge the mandatory cuts associated with sequestration,” Inhofe said. “It’s time this president finally confronts the true cause of our growing and unsustainable debt, which is his unsustainable growth in mandatory spending and unbridled domestic spending.”
“If we want America to remain the greatest nation on earth with a wealth of opportunities for future generations, we need to cut spending, balance the budget, and ensure a strong national defense.”
McKeon noted that both Congress and the White House have historically “proven to be poor judges of where and how we will have to fight to preserve our liberty.”
“What we can say with certainty is that the fight will come,” the chairman added. “By levying more cuts on the military, the president has decided that a future generation of Americans won’t have what they need on that day.”
When asked about one of those future potential fights today, Hagel showed a clear preference for wanting to stay on the topic of Obama’s budget numbers. Japanese officials warned local media today that North Korea was making preparatory moves for a ballistic missile test at any time.
“This country, the United States of America, our allies, United Nations, has been very clear that North Korea has been, with its bellicose rhetoric, with its actions, have been skating very close to a dangerous line. Their actions and their words have not helped defuse a combustible situation,” Hagel echoed the administration refrain.
“The proximity of the North Koreans to achieving a miniaturization of a nuclear device on a ballistic missile is really a matter of — is a classified matter,” added Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey. “But they have conducted two nuclear tests. They have conducted several successful ballistic missile launches. And in the absence of concrete evidence to the contrary, we have to assume the worst case, and that’s why we’re postured as we are today.”
When pressed on whether Americans should be considered about a looming war, the new Defense secretary got a bit flippant.
“[Kim Jong-un] doesn’t check with me on his decisions or how he’s feeling each day, the leader. I don’t know if he does with the chairman,” Hagel said. “The reality is that he is unpredictable. That country is unpredictable.”
“As far as knowing what the Kim Jong-un is about, you know, we’re having a press conference today about the Defense Department absorbing hundreds of billions of dollars in reductions for the good of the American people so that the United States of America can get back on a more solid economic foundation,” Dempsey said. “And what is Kim Jong-un doing? He’s starving his people with a military first policy. It’s pretty hard for us to figure that out.”