Sequestration will result in a ‘hollowed out’ military, armed forces chiefs warned

Defense sequestration would result in a “hollowed out” armed forces and threaten the national security and economic interests of the United States, warned the nation’s four service chiefs. 

(From left to right) General Raymond Odierno, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, General Norton Schwartz, and General James Amos. IMAGE SOURCE:

“Cuts of this magnitude would be catastrophic to the military,” said General Raymond Odierno, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. “With sequestration, my assessment is that nation would incur an unacceptable level of strategic and operational risk.”

Sequestration – the automatic across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending that will occur if Congress fails to pass a $1.2 trillion deficit reduction plan – will bring the total amount of defense cuts to about $1 trillion. As part of the debt limit compromise in August, the Budget Control Act of 2011 reduced defense discretionary spending by between $450 billion to $465 billion. However, the sequestration will cut another $1.2 trillion in discretionary spendings, resulting in an additional $600 billion in defense budget cuts.

Read more: Discretionary spending will face another round of cuts

For all four armed services – Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines – the cuts mandated by sequestration would mean a dramatic reduction in both military and civilian personnel as well as the elimination of modernization programs to pay for new weapons, equipments, and technology upgrades.

“If we fail to avoid the ill-conceived across-the-board cuts, we again will be left with a military with aging equipment, extremely stressed human resources with less than adequate training, and ultimately declining readiness and effectiveness,” said General Norton Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force.

Read more: President Obama vows to block Republican efforts to undo automatic cuts

Creating a “hollow force”

While the Department of Defense is expected to draw down the size of the armed forces after ending military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the sequestration would force even deeper reductions in military personnel and training. The excessive cuts could have serious consequences on the military’s future effectiveness and responsiveness.

At the very least, the reductions in manpower would limit what types of missions the military can take on and how much they accomplish at any given time.

“Deeper cuts will amount to diminished capacity to execute concurrent missions across the spectrum of operations and over the vast distances of the globe,” said Schwartz. “While the nation has become accustomed to and perhaps come to rely on effective execution of wide-ranging operations in rapid succession or even simultaneous, we will have to accept reduced coverage in [the] future.”

The military also risks losing valuable institutional knowledge and the leadership of the men and women who have carried the burden of fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, recounted his recent visit to Norfolk where sailors voiced their concerns about re-enlistment.

“One of them asked me, ‘I’ve been in the Navy now 12 years and they won’t let me re-enlist.’ I think that’s just starting,” said McKeon.

Defense budget cuts would displace many of the non-commissioned officers who have served between five to seven years and “have shouldered the burden over the last 10 years” of America’s wars, according to General James Amos, Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.

“We will lose the leadership of those NCOs…They will leave. It will take us another six to 10 years…to grow that sailor down in Norfolk,” said Amos.

Such departures would deprive the military of important knowledge on counter-terrorism and valuable experiences and skills in fighting insurgencies and unconventional warfare. Instead, tomorrow’s military may consist of more senior service members with less field experience in counter-insurgencies and the younger service members with little, if any, experience in fighting prolonged unconventional wars. As the United States face increasingly complex and uncertain security challenges in the 21st century, the military needs a force with a diverse range of skills, experiences, and expertise to confront an equally diverse range of threats and conflicts stemming from failed states, poverty, extremism, resource competitions, and many others.

“We cannot make cuts in a manner that would ‘hollow’ the force. We have learned this lesson before during previous draw downs,” according to Amos’ written testimony. “Our [nation] and world face an uncertain future; we cannot predict where and when events may occur that might require us to respond on short notice to protect our citizens and our interests.”

Forgoing weapons and technology upgrades

Sequestration would also force the military to practically abandon most, if not all, of its investments in weapons and technology upgrades.

For the Air Force, the sequestration cuts would slash funding for modernizations programs including:

  • The KC-46A tanker to replace the KC-135 Stratotankers that have “served as the primary refueling aircraft for more than 50 years;” (Source: U.S. Air Force fact sheet on KC-46A)
  • The F-35A Joint Strike Fighter for the Navy, Air Force, and Marine to perform recon missions, ground attacks, and air defense. The F-35A system is the “centerpiece of our future tactical air combat capability;” (Sources: Written testimony of General Norton Schwartz and
  • The MQ-9 unmanned aircraft for surveillance, intelligence gathering, and to destroy enemy targets. The MQ-9 would replace the smaller MQ-1 Predator used in the War on Terrorism. (Source: U.S. Air Force fact sheet on MQ-9 Reaper)

“From the perspective of the Air Force, further cuts will amount to further reductions in our end strength, continuing aging and reductions in the Air Force’s fleet of fighters, strategic bombers, air lifters, and tankers as well as to associated bases and infrastructure, and adverse effects on training and readiness, which has been in decline since 2003,” Schwartz explained. “Ultimately, such a scenario gravely undermines our ability to protect the nation.”

For the Navy, cutting modernization and procurement spending would cause “irreversible damage,” particularly to its military industrial base.

“We depend on consistent and reliable production from the shipbuilding and aviation industries to sustain our fleet capacity. If we end programs abruptly and some of these companies shut down, we will be hard-pressed to reconstitute them,” according to Admiral Jonathan Greenert’s written testimony. “And each ship we don’t build impacts the fleet for 20-50 years.”

Diminishing America’s global presence and standing 

In their congressional testimonies, the four service chiefs argued that sequestration would weaken America’s global presence by greatly reducing the military’s capacity and capability to respond to a wide range of economic and security threats.

For example, scaling back America’s naval presence could jeopardize the nation’s economic interests, particularly if other countries were to block important sea routes. “95% of the world’s commerce travel by sea. 49% of the world’s oil travel through seven maritime choke points. Many depend on us to maintain freedom of movement on those commons,” said Amos.

Additionally, downsizing the Air Force’s fleet would hinder America’s ability to quickly respond to multiple concurrent international crises. In March, the Air Force, along with the Navy and Marines, provided humanitarian relief to Japan following the devastating earthquake and tsunami and provided air support for NATO and coalition forces in Libya – all the while maintaining air coverage in the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Such responses may not be possible in the future if the sequestration takes effect.

“While we are committed to doing our part to bring the nation back to a more robust economy, we are also convinced that we need not forsake national security to achieve fiscal stability. We believe that a strategy-based approach to the necessary budget cuts and keeping those cuts at a reasonable level will put us on an acceptable path,” said Schwartz.

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