WASHINGTON, Nov. 18, 2013 – Long-term preparedness and near-term readiness are being affected by sequestration and America ignores this rise in risk at its peril, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in California today.
Hagel spoke at the first Reagan National Security Forum at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley. The secretary believes it was appropriate to highlight readiness at the Reagan conference, because Ronald Reagan faced a military readiness crisis when he took office in 1981. The American military was a “hollow force” when Reagan became president and changing that became a priority.
Hagel said military and civilian leaders have made concerted efforts to inform the President, Congress, and the American people “about the growing difficulties we face in training, equipping and preparing our forces under the cloud of budget uncertainty.”
These challenges are cumulative and will become more apparent as time goes on, the secretary said.
“Since 9/11, our military has grown more professional, more lethal and more deployable,” Hagel said. “But it has also grown older — as measured by the age of our major platforms, particularly our ships and aircraft — and far more expensive in every area, including the pay and benefits we provide our military personnel.”
Service members are under stress from years of repeated deployments — and so are the institutions that support, train and equip them.
“The department is currently facing sequester-level cuts on the order of $500 billion over 10 years,” Hagel said. “This is in addition to the ten-year, $487 billion reduction in DOD’s budget that is already underway. That means we are looking at nearly one trillion dollars in DOD cuts over this 10-year period, unless there is a new budget agreement.”
The secretary said the cuts are too steep, too deep and too abrupt. He called it an irresponsible way to govern, adding that sequestration forces the department to manage resources poorly.
“Implementing the 10 percent across-the-board cut required by sequestration, the department has been forced to absorb even steeper reductions in the budgetary accounts that fund training, maintenance and procurement — the core of military readiness,” he said.
The cuts have to be uneven because deploying forces must have the best training and equipment possible. All military services are feeling these cuts.
The Navy’s average global presence is down 10 percent, with particularly sharp reductions in regions like South America, the secretary said. The Army canceled training rotations for seven brigade combat teams. It now has just two of 43 active-duty brigade combat teams fully ready and available to execute a major combat operation.
Air Force units lost 25 percent of the annual training events that keep them qualified for their assigned missions. Marine Corps units not going to Afghanistan are getting 30 percent less funding, just as the service is facing demands for more embassy security, Hagel said.
“These are all current readiness realities, and they have all occurred since the imposition of sequestration in March,” he said. “But the effects will be felt for a long period of time to come. By continuing to cancel training for non-deploying personnel, we will create a backlog of training requirements that could take years to recover from. And inevitably, we are shrinking the size of the force that is ready and available to meet new contingencies or respond to crises across the globe.”
Operation Damayan, the U.S. military operation that’s providing relief to typhoon-ravaged areas of the Philippines, may not be possible in the future.
To readiness cuts can be added delays in re-orienting the force to meet new and emerging threats.
“For 12 years, the bulk of U.S. forces have been organized, manned, trained and equipped to respond to the specific requirements of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Hagel said. “As the demand of the second of these two wars comes to an end, the military has been re-orienting its training in order to build into the force a broader set of capabilities across the spectrum of conflict, particularly at the high-end. These efforts have also been seriously disrupted by sequester-level cuts.”
If sequestration continues, the military will not be prepared to perform its missions, Hagel said. It would be a bet that there would not be a major contingency operation against a capable adversary in the near-term.
The secretary called on Congress to fix these serious and deep problems.
“It will require Congress giving the Department of Defense the time and flexibility to strategically implement budget reductions and make the difficult choices necessary for the future,” Hagel said. “We must also rollback sequestration and fully fund the President’s budget request. Leaders across the Department will continue to give their best and most honest and clear-eyed assessment to America’s elected leaders about the consequences of leaving these steep and damaging cuts in place.
“We need the certainty of a budget,” the secretary continued. “This perpetual dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over this department further hinders responsible and wise planning and confidence.”
Hagel stressed that all aspects of the DOD budget must be searched to find savings. DOD leaders need to pare back overhead costs and eliminate excess infrastructure. They also need to reform personnel and compensation policy.