WASHINGTON, Oct. 11, 2011 – Additional budget cuts beyond the $450 billion the Defense Department already has planned for the next 10 years would be „catastrophic,“ Army Secretary John M. McHugh said yesterday.
Speaking at the opening day of the 2011 Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting and exposition here, McHugh said the potential for the department to face additional budget cuts of $500 billion to $600 billion in the next decade keeps him up at night. Those additional cuts could happen if a congressional „super committee“ looking at ways to reduce the federal debt by $1.2 trillion can’t come to agreement by Thanksgiving. If that happens, the debt reduction law passed over the summer forces a „sequestration,“ by which as much as half that amount must come from national security spending.
„I think we’re in a positive position to accommodate at least the $450 billion or so in cuts that have been scheduled against the DOD to this point,“ McHugh told a panel of journalists at the meeting. But sequestration would be catastrophic, he added, „certainly to the Army and certainly to our national defense posture.“
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said at the meeting that the potential for a „hollow force“ would not come to fruition. Instead, he said, a ready and capable force would exist, though its size might be affected.
„No matter what happens, we are not going to have a hollow force,“ Odierno said. „We are going to have a force that is a certain size that has the modernization and readiness necessary to be quality.“
McHugh and Odierno agreed that defense cuts likely would be shared equally across the services.
Earlier, at the opening ceremony of the AUSA event, McHugh addressed more than 3,000 guests, including soldiers, civilian employees and defense contractors. He pointed out that while all services contribute to the fight, the Army carries the brunt of the mission in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
„There’s no getting around the fact that it is the Army that has been saddled with much of the burden these past years, providing between 50 to 70 percent of our deployable forces,“ he said. „While I am loath to view our men and women in uniform as mere budgetary statistics, I think it is important to remind people that while the U.S. Army represents half of our nation’s entire force, we consume only a quarter to 30 percent of the entire defense budget.“
The secretary said decision makers often fail to correctly predict the nature of future conflicts and that following conflicts like World War I, World War II and Korea, for instance, basing budget decisions on the notion that ground forces were no longer relevant. Those decisions ended up depleting Army forces and reducing quality of life for soldiers and their families, McHugh said.
This time, he added, the Army has seen the economic downturn in advance, as well as the impending budget cuts.
„Unlike in the past, this time we have seen this downturn coming for some time,“ he said. „We have been analyzing the best ways to meet these challenges, and as such, I can tell you we are better positioned than at any time in our nation’s history to deal with the fiscal realities and do it in a way that truly makes sense.“
Part of dealing with fiscal realities, McHugh said, is cuts to the total number of men and women in uniform. The end strength will eventually look different than it does now, and with the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army can handle the challenge of end-strength reductions, he said.
„But what is critically important is that no matter what the force ultimately looks like, we have sufficient time to ramp down to ensure we do it in a balanced way, and that we have what is necessary for training and equipment and reset,“ McHugh said.
Another concern, he said, are suggestions that some of the services recover at the sacrifices of others and that the United States probably doesn’t need a strong and decisive standing Army. In that point of view, the future resembles the motion picture „Transformers“ more than it does the film „Saving Private Ryan,“ McHugh told the audience. „History looms before us once again,“ he added.
McHugh said that while air power and technology are critical, America’s enemies often don’t fight the way Americans predicts they will. Boots on the ground, he said, are critical for the nation’s defense.
„No major conflict has ever been won without boots on the ground,“ he said. „And accordingly, our national interests demand that while we set about the task of reshaping this Army for the years ahead, we remain steadfast and continue to support this, the greatest land force the world has ever known.“
Efforts to help the Army find ways to save money and absorb looming budget cuts already are under way, McHugh said.
For example, he said, the service is removing redundancies and overlap in research. Additionally, McHugh said, he has asked that the Army look into the multiple and expensive temporary task forces that have become „permanent.“
Also under way, he added, are efforts to streamline the requirements process, to reform the Installation Management Command, and to make „sweeping changes“ to human capital management.
McHugh said changes will be made to find cost savings within the Army Service Acquisition program, where $243 billion was spent in 2010 — including $140 billion on contracts, more than half of that on services.
A McHugh-issued directive will create a new government structure that will consolidate about 45 percent of service obligations into six portfolio management centers, he said. Those include facility support services, medical services, transportation services, electronics and communications, equipment related services, and knowledge-based services.
„This will, I believe, improve oversight effectiveness, while helping us tailor and apply and monitor the results of better buying practices for improved acquisition, as well as leveraging portfolio demand for better prices,“ he said. Those types of actions, he said, will help the Army deal with the budgets that will be made for the service by others.
McHugh said he will help to guide the Army through the budget crisis, and will keep soldiers in mind when doing so.
„We can, we must — and I promise you — we will do better,“ he said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)