Unprecedented budget factors have placed the nation’s defense strategy in jeopardy, senior Department of Defense leaders told the Senate Armed Services Committee Feb. 12.
During his opening remarks, the chief of staff of the Air Force stressed the severity of the current fiscal situation.
“Sequestration threatens to carve crucial capability from America’s Air Force, with alarming and immediate effects on people, readiness and infrastructure, and, eventually, on modernization,” said Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. “If it occurs, it will significantly undermine your Air Force’s readiness and responsiveness today.”
The common theme of the day was attempting to quantify the relationship between risk and sequestration.
“If sequestration occurs, it will severely limit our ability to implement our defense strategy,” said Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “It will put the nation at greater risk of coercion. And, it will break faith with the men and women who serve this nation in uniform.”
Unless sequestration is averted, the impacts on the Air Force include budget cuts resulting in cancelling about 200,000 flying hours this year. This includes training and non-support of combatant commander requirements like theater security packages and continuous bomber presence missions.
Welsh went on to emphasize the impacts sequestration will have on readiness.
“Roughly two-thirds of our active-duty combat Air Force units will curtail home station training, beginning in March, and will drop below acceptable readiness levels by mid-May,” said Welsh. “Most will be completely non-mission capable by July.”
Sequestration was delayed until March 1 by a bill passed in January. If implemented, it would mandate about $500 billion in across-the-board defense spending cuts over 10 years in addition to $487 billion in cuts mandated over that period by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
The Defense Department is, and will continue to be, part of the nation’s economic recovery, the chairman said, but to do so requires budget certainty.
“Finally, we need the flexibility to transfer and reprogram money to our highest priorities,” the chairman said. “Readiness loses when major portions of the budget are untouchable. Everything needs to be on the table.”
Failing to act is a choice in itself, Dempsey said, “one that will eventually require a progressive contraction of security commitments around the world and a less proactive approach to protecting our interests.”
If the budget uncertainty isn’t addressed, Dempsey said, the nation’s defense options will be reduced and risk will increase in turn. “Our military power will be less credible, because it will be less sustainable. Now, we are only a few days away from making that a reality,” he added.
“Our nation, our service members and their families expect us to do better,” the chairman said. “Most importantly, a turbulent world that relies on American leadership demands that we do better.”
(Staff Sgt. David Salanitri, Air Force Public Affairs Agency, contributed to this story.)