The four branches of the military delivered another warning to Congress April 18 that a prolonged budget sequester will significantly affect military readiness, and could leave the services unable to carry out defense strategy.
Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer told lawmakers sequestration has forced the cancellation of flying hours, the stand-down of nine fighter squadrons and three bomber squadrons — all of which is dealing a direct blow to Air Force readiness.
“The cornerstone of our Airmen’s ability to provide airpower for the nation at a moment’s notice anywhere in the world is their readiness,” Spencer said. “Allowing the Air Force to slip to a lower state of readiness…will negate the essential strategic advantage of airpower and put the joint forces at increased risk,” he said.
He pointed out the threat to the Air Force’s current state of readiness is a two-fold problem with decades of sustained combat operations and the current fiscal situation facing the forces.
Sequestration has already forced the Air Force to induct 60 less airplanes and 35 less engines into its depots as well as cut 200,000 flying hours in the last six months of this fiscal year that led to some squadrons to stop flying.
He pointed out that the lack of depot maintenance matched by the stand-down of aircraft threatens readiness in the same way that letting an old car sit untouched in a garage would.
“At home, I have a 1972 Monte Carlo and because it’s old, I have to start that car at least once and get the transmission and everything working or it won’t run very well,” Spencer said.
Airplanes are similar in that if they sit on the ground, don’t start up, taxi and fly for a period of time, they tend not to work very well.
“If you stand down aircraft for several months, that’s a problem,” said Spencer. The other problem is, if the aircraft aren’t flying, the pilots aren’t maintaining currency and neither are the maintainers.
The other services’ vice chiefs emphasized that message repeatedly during a Senate Armed Services Committee’s readiness subcommittee hearing on the state of military readiness in light of the $41 billion spending cut the Defense Department is absorbing over the rest of the fiscal year, triggered by the budget sequester that took effect in March.
“The reality is that if sequestration continues as it is…the Army simply will not have the resources to support the current defense strategic guidance, and we risk becoming a hollow force,” Gen. John F. Campbell, Army vice chief of staff, testified.
Adm. Mark E. Ferguson III, vice chief of naval operations, said the Navy is feeling the shortfall in everything from the ability maintain readiness to the capability to respond to a world crisis.
“By the end of this fiscal year, two-thirds of our nondeployed ships and aviation squadrons will be less than fully capable and not certified for major combat operations,” he said, adding that deployments have been delayed or cancelled and that in some cases, ship tours have been prolonged.
Gen. John M. Paxton Jr., assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, warned the senators that the effects of the budget sequester will be “serious, prolonged and difficult to quickly reverse or repair,” calling the impact on training and readiness an issue that keeps him awake at night.
“There’s a lot of unease and unrest and potential danger elsewhere around the world that you expect your soldiers, your sailors, your airmen, your Marines to be ready for,” he said. “I worry less about a hollow force than I do about particularly broken units you won’t see until it’s in the rear view mirror.”
Echoing a view the other service representatives expressed, Campbell said if the prolonged budget uncertainty continues, a point may come when the nation’s leaders are unable to ask any more of the military.
“The problem we have is we never say no,” he said. “And at some point, we’re going to have to tell you, ‘We can’t do that. We can’t continue to do more with less, or else we’re going to put [service members’] lives at risk.”
(Compiled from American Forces Press Service and Air Force Public Affairs reports)