The biggest challenge to the military's readiness is sequestration, military leaders said on Capitol Hill today.
Sequestration is a provision of the Budget Control Act of 2011 that imposes across-the-board spending cuts if Congress and the White House cannot agree on more targeted cuts aimed at reducing the budget deficit.
The uncertain and restrictive budget environment is forcing the Army to make tough choices, the vice chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Allyn and his counterparts from the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps spoke at a hearing on the current state of readiness of U.S. forces.
"We must have … predictable and sustained funding to deliver the readiness that our combatant commanders require to meet the missions that continue to emerge," Allyn said.
The Army is accepting considerable risk by reducing its end strength while deferring modernization programs and infrastructure investments, he said.
"For the United States Army, our No. 1 readiness risk is sequestration," he said. The other service leaders echoed that sentiment about their respective branches.
Ripple Effect of Sequestration
The vice chief of naval operations, Navy Adm. Michelle Howard, said the Navy can maintain a ready fleet through a stable budget and being able to procure and maintain ships with certainty.
Howard said she was in the fleet during a round of sequestration. Deployments were canceled and maintenance periods were shifted, she noted.
"The ripple effect of that goes through the years,” the admiral said. “You not only lose the maintenance time, but you lose qualification time for people, and that experience set can never be bought back."
Howard said the fiscal year 2017 budget request provides the resources for deployed forces and supports continued readiness recovery efforts.
"This submission also contains the hard choices and tradeoffs we made to achieve future warfighting capability," she said.
Marines Ready to Fight
For the Marine Corps, members are ready to fight and are forward deployed around the world for crisis response, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps told the Senate panel. Maintaining that stance requires carefully allocating limited funds and working around budget limitations, Gen. John M. Paxton Jr. said.
"In our challenging fiscal environment we're struggling to maintain all of those balances," he added.
The Marine Corps is no longer in a healthy position to generate current readiness and simultaneously reset all of its equipment while sustaining its facilities and modernizing to ensure future readiness, Paxton said. "The strains on our personnel and equipment are showing in many areas,” he told the senators, “particularly in aviation, in communications and intelligence."
Investments Needed in Air Force
Sequestration was felt throughout the Air Force, the service’s vice chief of staff, Gen. David L. Goldfein, said.
"We also broke faith with our airmen, especially our civilian airmen," he said. "When they were furloughed, we lost a number of them who decided that if the company was not invested in them, they were not going to stick with the company."
The threat of sequestration must be removed, Goldfein said. Investments are needed in the service, he added, noting that the current Air Force is one of the smallest, oldest and least ready in its history.
"The fiscal year ’17 budget reflects our best effort to balance capability, capacity and readiness under the topline we've received," he said. "We made difficult trades between readiness today and the critical investment required to modernize for the future against potential adversaries who continue to close the technological gap."
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)