WASHINGTON, July 23, 2014 —
The effects of sequestration spending cuts may seem overstated, but their cumulative impact affects the military’s readiness and its ability to respond to future contingencies, the commander of U.S. Army Materiel Command said here today.
Army Gen. Dennis L. Via discussed how the budgeting mechanism influences decisions and affects national defense for the Army and Defense Department at large during a meeting with the Defense Writers Group.
“Sometimes, there can be an impression that it’s overstated and [a question of] what the impact of sequestration will be,” Via said. But as the military emerges from 13 years of war and has to reset its equipment while downsizing force levels, the question of impact is a cumulative effect over time, he added.
“The impact is to our readiness and ability to be able to respond to future contingencies,” Via said.
Via said some “plus-ups” of funding in fiscal years 2014 and 2015 have mitigated some of the effects, but he noted that sequestration returns in fiscal 2016 at a time when the Army is trying to reset the force.
“We have to implement all of those cuts and have to reduce the force to, potentially, [420,000 soldiers],” he said. “That has significant risk to the nation.”
Looking around the world today, Via said, no one can say where the next contingency will be.
“But we know there’ll be another contingency,” he added.
And depending on what the future brings, the general said, the Army must be prepared “to conduct forces to meet the requirements -- whatever that level of force is.”
While that isn’t his decision, Via said, when the decision has been made to commit forces, “we have to make sure that they’re ready and prepared to go and accomplish their mission.
“They have to have the equipment, so we have to reset and get it back in their hands,” he continued. “We have to have the materiel available to surge if an event goes beyond what we think would be an initial .”
It’s also necessary to ensure that forces are postured to be expeditionary-capable, the general said, despite becoming more home-station-based, and to have power-projection platforms to push forces forward.
And with sequestration and the general budget uncertainty, readiness “continues to have us go up and down,” Via said.
“In readiness you have to maintain … what we call a band of excellence. You have to remain and operate in that band so that when you’re called upon … you can do so in a matter of days,” he said.
“The longer sequestration impacts and your readiness declines, it’s just like your car when you sit it out and you don’t drive it for a few months,” the general said. Using that idle vehicle as a metaphor for readiness, he explained how the lack of readiness can be felt.
“For three months, you can start it up and probably be OK,” Via said. “If you let it sit for nine months, all of a sudden the seals go, the tires, other challenges happen, and before you know it, you have an automobile you can’t drive.
“And that’s what happens to readiness when we’re talking about aviation [and] other platforms,” he continued. “Sequestration has what I call a constant chipping away at readiness. At some point, you get down to a point where it’s no longer affordable, and you have ‘have’ and ‘have-not’ units.”
When called upon to deploy, the general said, the “have-not” units cannot deploy, and if they do, they are not prepared.
“We don’t ever want to be in a position where we’re sending America’s sons and daughters into harm’s way not ready to accomplish their mission,” Via said.
“So I think when our chief of staff of the Army and secretary of the Army talk about that if we get down to a certain level -- that [420,000],” he explained, “you’ve got to understand that’s not 420,000 [soldiers] ready to support operations.”
A large portion of that, Via said -- 70,000 to 80,000 soldiers who are recruiters or otherwise serve in what he called a “generating force” -- as well as many tens of thousands in the recruiting pipeline and in training, take a big bite out of the 420,000-soldier Army.
“Before you know it, you’re down to 200,000 [soldiers]. … Are they going to be ready to meet for contingency?” he asked.
Looking at the number of contingencies happening around the world today and where soldiers are forward-stationed, Via noted the Army provides about 40 percent of the enabling capabilities of every combatant command.
“What do I mean by that?” he asked. “Communications networks, port opening, theater opening, airfield opening, theater intelligence, medical, pre-positioned stocks, logistics and support and contracting -- the Army does that,” Via said.
So with decisions forced by sequestration and having to “reduce, reduce and reduce,” the general said, then the culminating effects on the force, over time, become apparent.
“That’s where I worry about sequestration,” Via said. “At the end of the day, the Army’s primary mission is to prevent conflict, shape the operational environment, and if committed, win decisively.” That’s true whether it’s in a kinetic fight or during humanitarian assistance disaster relief efforts, he added.
“We want to be able to respond, because that’s the reputation … and security of the country,” Via said. “So when we look at that, sequestration impacts significantly our ability to prevent conflict.”
Conflict is prevented, he said, by having ready forces and equipment around the world that can respond very, very quickly.
“Sequestration, over time, will continue to cut at that readiness,” Via said. “The concern is … over a period of time, it’ll be that car we’re talking about that you just left for a period of time. You think it’s OK until you go out to start it and it doesn’t start. Where are you then? That’s where we don’t want to be.”
(Follow Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallDoDNews)