Editor’s note: ‘TRADOCIAN’ is a cog inside the U.S. defense machine. His opinions are, obviously, his own and do not represent the positions of any other individual or institution.
Sequester is and has been the hot defense topic here in the United States. A Google search for “looming sequester” comes back with tens of thousands of results. Everyone is talking about it, but without much focus on its practical effects on the U.S. military. In this post, I will address how the U.S. Army has been affected by the toxic brew of incompetence and parochialism that the U.S. Congress is forcing them to imbibe.
First off, what is all this?
In 2011, Congressional Republicans, upset over the rising deficit, refused to raise the debt ceiling without matching commitments to cut government spending. President Obama declined to cut funding for key social programs. Both sides eventually agreed to raise the debt ceiling if a bipartisan group of Senators and Members of Congress – the ‘super committee’ – could agree on $1.2 trillion in cuts. Severe automatic sequestration cuts were to be enacted if the ‘super committee’ failed to agree. And fail they did.
These cuts (originally planned to come into place on Jan. 1st without a debt deal, but postponed until March 1st) would constitute 10% across the board reductions, with half of the cuts targeting the defense budget ($492 billion over ten years) and other cuts targeting social programs, education, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Basically, neither side of the political spectrum wins. But it did not galvanize Congress into action. In part, this is because of the dysfunction that defines this Congress. Also, overseas contingency operations, social security, veteran benefits, and Medicaid are exempt. The DoD personnel account is also exempt, but this only means that the impact on modernization, readiness, science and technology, and everything else will be even more significant. Hence, we see talk about the danger of a ‘hollow force.’
Most observers agree that these indiscriminate cuts would have severe consequences for the U.S. economy and military preparedness, as it would require the military make painful cuts to core defense priorities.
The Effects on the Army
According to Secretary Leon Panetta, the sequestration cuts would reduce our ability to meet national security objectives, contribute greatly to operational risks, limit our ability to forward deploy and severely reduce training standards and force readiness.
The U.S. Army has been operating on Continuing Resolution Authority since October 2012 because Congress declined to pass an appropriations bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. This means that DoD’s budget is the same as what it was in FY12. Without an appropriations bill, new programs that have been planned for years cannot be started. Some of these programs include much needed systems like a new self-propelled howitzer and a new cargo helicopter for our aging rotary fleet. The Army is locked into the FY12 rate and prohibited from executing any ‘new-start’ programs for FY13. A ‘new start’ is any program or project that is not previously justified by DOD and funded by Congress through the budget process. That equates to the Army coming into this operating year with an approximately $11 billion shortfall for 2013 before sequestration even kicks in.
Sequester will compound the damage that has already been done. If it happens, rotations to training exercises and centers (such as the National Training Center and the Joint Readiness Training Center) may be cancelled for those units that are not preparing for a deployment to Afghanistan. The purpose of these training centers is to provide units the most realistic environment possible to conduct culmination training exercises across the range of military operations. Cancelling these rotations represents a significant gap in unit readiness, which are the key components of our expeditionary force. The Army could be forced to extend upcoming deployments for units going to Afghanistan because the next round of brigades that were supposed to come up behind them will not be certified to deploy, as noted by General Odierno in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Depot maintenance of major weapons systems such as tanks, personnel carriers, helicopters, howitzers, and others will be put on hold for the third and fourth quarters of the year. This means unit readiness will be downgraded due to lack of training and from lack of serviced weapons systems. Individual training at Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) institutions will be cut by as much as 40% in the second half of FY13 which will create a significant backlog of untrained soldiers in their assigned Military Occupation Specialties (MOS). The aviation MOSs will be hit the hardest. The DoD just told its civilian employees yesterday that furloughs are likely. In the event, the Army civilian workforce will essentially be working 20% fewer hours and taking a 20% cut in pay for the final two quarters of FY13, meaning less time for them to train the army, develop the army, support the army, etc. More weapons systems and munitions that industry was ready to begin manufacturing in FY13 will be delayed.
Finally, hundreds of thousands of contract jobs in manufacturing and service support will either be put on hold or eliminated. In total, the cuts would lead to a loss of an estimated 1 million jobs from the (civilian) defense sector, including DoD itself. This directly affects veterans who make up around 44% of DoD civilian workforce. Luckily, many of them have pensions to fall back on, but this may not be enough. And still, the essential systems and services they provided will cease to exist. Their pay will disappear from the economy. The missions of the service contractors, however, will not go away and active-duty soldiers will be forced to take them over. Things like gate guards, grounds maintenance, food service, vehicle maintenance, and other tasks that have been performed by contractors since the military began implementing contract efficiencies in the 1990’s will land back in the laps of soldiers, who will be pulled away from the training and readiness programs, or at least those which the U.S. will still be able to fund.
Some of you reading this might be thinking, ‘So what? Life is tough. These are times of austerity and there is no reason the U.S. Defense Department and the defense industry should be immune.’ Or perhaps you wonder how much of a negative impact these cuts can really have given that the U.S. defense budget is, far and away, the largest in the world.
These cuts may not lead to the U.S. becoming a second-rate power, at least not in the near or mid-term, but there are serious potential consequences. To put it simply, in the near-term, if something blows up in Iran or Korea or some other unpredictable place later this year or early next year the U.S. will not be postured to respond effectively. What other country can intervene to ensure international stability? To take a recent example, France was unable to get its own troops to Mali without U.S. support. Furthermore, delays in fleet maintenance and procurement of systems has a direct correlation with the degradation of the combat power of American land forces.