WASHINGTON, Sept. 19, 2014 —
Should sequestration resume in fiscal year 2016 as current law requires, "it will be very difficult for us to lead around the world,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said here today.
Fiscal 2016 is “a breaking point," Odierno told the Defense Writers Group. "I'm not seeing peace breaking out around the world in ’16," he added.
Everyone wants the United States to lead the way in resolving global conflicts and crises, the general said -- not necessarily supplying the preponderance of forces, but being involved to some extent. The nagging question, he said, is "Do we want to do that or not?"
In fiscal 2016, Odierno pointed out, the Army’s budget will go down $9 billion from what it is now. That would have a "significant degradation" on the force, he said, "because I cannot take people out fast enough."
The general explained that manpower, modernization and training need to be kept in balance, even as the budget shrinks. And it's currently out of balance with too many soldiers and not enough dollars to properly train and equip them, he said. A reduction of 20,000 soldiers a year is as far as he's willing to push manpower reductions without seriously degrading operational concerns and personnel considerations, Odierno told the writers.
Vast majority of budget is mandatory spending
Although the total Army budget is around $120 billion a year, the general said, the vast majority of that is mandatory spending that can't be touched, such as funds for equipment and personnel costs. About 46 percent of the budget alone is for personnel, he noted.
Sequestration takes a large percentage of a small portion of the budget that otherwise would have gone to training and equipping the force, he said, noting that the slashed budget will delay aircraft purchases, platform upgrades, command and control system and a host of other needed requirements for years to come.
The active Army is now 510,000 soldiers, down from a high of 570,000. It will be 490,000 by the end of fiscal 2015, 470,000 by fiscal 2016, 415,000 by fiscal 2017 and 420,000 by fiscal 2019, he pointed out.
Before the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant offensive and the Russian incursion into Ukraine, Odierno said, he testified to lawmakers that a reduction to 450,000 would pose a significant security risk, and 420,000 would mean the Army would be unable to execute its current strategy. Since that time, he said, the risk has increased while the ability of the Army to deploy soldiers to a number of hot spots around the world simultaneously causes him grave concern. "I'm in a box," he added.
Lawmaker concerns about manpower reductions
Over the last two days, the Army chief said, he approved letters for the Army secretary to sign, replying to about 40 lawmakers who had expressed concern that the Army will reduce the number of soldiers on installations in their home states.
"I wrote back that the reason I'm taking soldiers out of your installation and out of your state is because of sequestration, not that I want to do it,” Odierno said. That's the dilemma we're in."
The nation needs to have a security debate what it wants to do, the general told the writers. "Not a budget debate,” he added. “A security debate about what capabilities and responsibilities we want from our Army."
Summing up the current state of affairs -- sequestration and degradation of readiness, even as unforeseen problems emerge in Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere -- the general remarked: "This is a lousy way to plan and do business."