Stratcom Braces for ‘Readiness Avalanche’ from Sequestration
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 24, 2013 Recognizing that the services have made tough choices to ensure U.S. Strategic Command can maintain its deterrence mission in the face of sequestration, the Stratcom commander said he has grave concerns about the “readiness avalanche” that’s ahead.
The nuclear triad and Stratcom’s space, cyber and other essential activities have not felt the day-to-day readiness impact of across-the-board budget cuts, Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler told reporters today at a Defense Writers Group breakfast roundtable.
“Not yet,” Kehler emphasized.
“Because of the nature of Strategic Command’s missions, the services have given us preferential treatment,” he explained. “So far the services have been able to scrape together readiness money to keep it on things like the dual-capable bomber force,” reprogramming funds as possible to cover those costs.
“They are not going to be able to sustain that,” Kehler said. “If sequestration continues, it is not going to continue.”
Kehler saw evidence of that during his recent visit to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., home of Global Strike Command. Walking the floor of the maintenance dock and talking to the flight crews, Kehler said he was struck by reactions to the sound of aircraft operations.
“Everyone commented that they had not heard any flying activity for two or three days,” he said. “They were motivated again, hearing aircraft fly.”
Those sounds reflected the Air Force’s conscious decision to continue nuclear certification for B-52 Stratofortress aircraft crews, he said, recognizing that the funds came at the expense of something else.
“I know, behind the scenes, both the Air Force and the Navy have had to make a lot of decisions” to be able to support Stratcom, he said.
“I am worried about readiness,” Kehler said. “It is like watching an avalanche where you see it start small, and if you ignore readiness accounts and the momentum builds, then eventually you have a readiness avalanche.”
Kehler said he’s particularly concerned about “the human dimension” of sequestration and the long-term impact it could have on the Defense Department. While military units reduce flying hours and stand down units, civilian workers experiencing furloughs are reassessing their futures with DOD, he said.
“I am worried that those [civilians] near retirement age will not hang on, because they will not be confident in us,” Kehler said. Equally concerning, he said, is the discouraging impact sequestration is having on younger civilian workers who represent the command’s and department’s future.
Kehler pointed to Stratcom’s successful internship program that attracts talented young employees to the command.
“Some [interns] have said they won’t stay [because they] don’t see the future here,” he said. “So I am very concerned about the human dimension of all this.”