How bad will the cuts to defense spending affect the military readiness of the US? The Pentagon has begun to game out the impact of another round of steep cuts, and even fly-overs at public events will feel the slice of the axe. More importantly, Army base operations will get reduced by 30%, and military leaders are warning of a “hollow force” with a mandate that cannot possibly be met:
Bracing for the possibility of steep congressionally mandated budget cuts, senior military officials have issued directives for fiscal retrenchment that include a 30 percent cut for Army base operations this year, personnel cuts and a halt to unnecessary fighter jet swoops during special events.
The military is ordering these trims reluctantly as the Pentagon prepares for the $52 billion shortfall it says it would face this fiscal year if Congress and the White House fail to reach a deal by March 1 avoiding across-the-board cuts under the scenario known as sequestration. As the deadline looms, Pentagon officials have lashed out at Congress in unusually stern terms.
“The readiness of our Armed Forces is at a tipping point,” Gen. Martin E. Dempsey wrote to Sen. Carl Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, in a Jan. 14 letter also signed by the chiefs of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. “Budget conditions unfolding right now are causing this readiness crisis.”
The letter said “we are on the brink of creating a hollow force,” because under the current budget conditions and legislation, the Pentagon could be ordered to keep a number of troops it can’t adequately sustain.
According to the Post, the Air Force has already begun implementing cuts but still faces a nearly $2 billion deficit for the rest of this fiscal year. That’s one reason why we won’t be seeing fly-overs at sporting events, and the Air Force’s participation in air shows — a big recruiting environment — will stop as well. The Navy and the Air Force have both imposed a hiring freeze, and the Pentagon says that the pending sequestration could mean furloughs for its entire 800,000 civilian employees.
The sequestration followed a previous round of cuts in Defense that took $500 billion out of projected spending over the next decade already. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has repeatedly warned that the sequestration would be “unworkable” and a “disaster.” Now it appears that the sequestration has become a reality, and the “hollow force” a real possibility.
Into this steps … Chuck Hagel. With Chuck Schumer’s blessing in hand, he’s likely to get confirmed as Panetta’s successor, and it’s become clear that Obama wants Hagel to serve as a hatchet man to reduce defense spending even further. That will not only put Obama on a collision course with Congress, but also on a collision course with the operational philosophy at Defense, which has had the mission to prepare for two hot wars at once since WWII. It’s possible to reduce defense spending significantly, but only if the US wants to retreat from its global position of security leadership and guarantor of safe trade. While that may possibly be Obama’s aim, interventions like Libya would then be off the table entirely (perhaps not a bad idea, considering that outcome), and certainly the same could be said of organizing against terrorism in Asia and Africa, and providing for the defense of Europe.
This should be an interesting confirmation hearing.