Vice Chiefs Detail Consequences of Budget Cuts

WASHINGTON, Oct. 27, 2011 — The vice chiefs of the ser­vices told Con­gress mem­bers today that they fear bud­get cuts could cause a hol­low force.

The men said they under­stand that the ser­vices face a lean time, but they asked the House Armed Ser­vices Committee’s readi­ness sub­com­mit­tee to be judi­cious about cuts.

Gen. Peter W. Chiarel­li, the Army’s vice chief of staff, asked the rep­re­sen­ta­tives to remem­ber that the ser­vices have fought a 10-year war, with an all-vol­un­teer force.

“That force is amaz­ing­ly resilient, but at the same time, it is strained,” he said. “Its equip­ment is strained, sol­diers are strained, fam­i­lies are strained. But they’ve been absolute­ly amaz­ing over these 10 years at war.”

Chiarel­li said he under­stands bud­get cuts and cor­re­spond­ing force reduc­tions have to be made. “How­ev­er, we must make them respon­si­bly so that we do not end up with either a hol­lowed out force … or an unbal­anced force,” he said.

The Army con­tin­ues to look for effi­cien­cies, the gen­er­al said. “When we appeared before the com­mit­tee in July, we were look­ing at cuts in the vicin­i­ty of $450 bil­lion over 10 years,” he said. If the Army’s por­tion of that is about 26 per­cent, as it his­tor­i­cal­ly has been, he said, that will be “tough, but … doable.”

Any­thing more would be dif­fi­cult for the ser­vice, he added.

The Army was cut too much in the draw­downs after World War I, World War II and the Viet­nam War, Chiarel­li said.

“I lived through an Army that came out of Viet­nam … and for 10 to 12 years, we had to rebuild that Army,” he said. “These ques­tions, these deci­sions have been made before, and there’s just a ten­den­cy to believe at the end of a war that we’ll nev­er need ground forces again. Well, I tell you that we’ve nev­er got that right. We have always required them. We just don’t have the imag­i­na­tion to always be able to pre­dict exact­ly when that will be.”

The Navy is equal­ly wor­ried, Vice Chief of Naval Oper­a­tions Adm. Mark Fer­gu­son said. “In an era of declin­ing bud­gets, we are ever mind­ful of the lessons of the past, when we assessed force readi­ness,” he told the com­mit­tee. “Tak­en in sum or in parts, low per­son­nel qual­i­ty, aging equip­ment, degra­da­tion of mate­r­i­al readi­ness and reduced train­ing will inevitably lead to declin­ing readi­ness of the force.”

The Navy must main­tain bal­ance to remain the world’s best naval force, Fer­gu­son said. Mil­i­tary readi­ness is com­pli­cat­ed.

“Our objec­tive and chal­lenge in this peri­od of aus­ter­i­ty will be to keep the fund­ing for cur­rent and future readi­ness in bal­ance, and hold­ing accept­able lev­el of risk in the capac­i­ty of those forces to meet the require­ments of the com­bat­ant com­man­ders,” he said.

The Navy will take a mea­sured approach and look for effi­cien­cies in over­head, infra­struc­ture, per­son­nel costs, force struc­ture and mod­ern­iza­tion, he said.

The Marine Corps will take the strat­e­gy, fig­ure what needs to be done to make it work, then take the avail­able resources and build the most capa­ble force they can, Gen. Joseph Dun­ford, the assis­tant com­man­dant of the Marine Corps, said.

“As Defense Sec­re­tary [Leon] Panet­ta refines the strat­e­gy, the com­man­dant is going to use what we learned dur­ing the force-struc­ture review effort to make rec­om­men­da­tions,” Dun­ford told the pan­el. “With regard to bal­ance, we don’t want to make cuts in a man­ner that would cre­ate a hol­low force.”

The Marine Corps is com­mit­ted to the propo­si­tion that no mat­ter what their size, “every unit that’s in the Unit­ed States Marine Corps will be ready to respond to today’s cri­sis today,” he said.

Asked what would hap­pen if bud­get con­straints caused the Corps to shrink to 150,000, Dun­ford said the Corps came up with a size of an 186,800-member Marine Corps dur­ing the last force struc­ture review.

“That is a sin­gle, major con­tin­gency oper­a­tion force,” he said. “So that force can respond to only one major con­tin­gency. A hun­dred and fifty thou­sand would put us below the lev­el that’s nec­es­sary to sup­port a sin­gle con­tin­gency.”

The Marines also are busy han­dling human­i­tar­i­an, coun­ter­pira­cy, and dis­as­ter relief in many parts of the world, Dun­ford not­ed.

“Quite frankly, at 150,000 Marines, we’re going to have to make some deci­sions,” he said. “We will not be able to do those kinds of things on a day-to-day basis. We will not be able to meet the com­bat­ant com­man­ders’ require­ments for for­ward-delayed, for­ward-engaged forces. We will not be there to deter our poten­tial adver­saries. We won’t be there to assure our poten­tial friends or to assure our allies. And we cer­tain­ly won’t be there to con­tain small crises before they become major con­fla­gra­tions.”

Air Force Gen. Phillip Breedlove, the ser­vice vice chief, said the Air Force is stressed. “These are chal­leng­ing times, and the ops tem­po is exac­er­bat­ed, I think, by the fact that our Air Force since the open­ing of the Gulf War, has 34 per­cent few­er air­craft than we start­ed that war with and about 26 per­cent few­er peo­ple,” he said.

Breedlove said he does not fore­see a change in oper­a­tional tem­po and this will lead to a “slow, but steady decline in our unit readi­ness.”

The ser­vice also has picked up new mis­sions includ­ing sup­port­ing the joint team with intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance. “We’ve also been asked to build an increased capac­i­ty in spe­cial oper­a­tions,” the gen­er­al said.

The Air Force is fly­ing the old­est fleet in its his­to­ry, “and we do need to des­per­ate­ly get to recap­i­tal­iza­tion dur­ing this age of fis­cal aus­ter­i­ty,” he said.

“Many of the chal­lenges we see will come … on the backs of our peo­ple,” he said. “As we get small­er and as we expect that the task­ing does not change, the deploy-to-dwell times and the op tem­po on our air­men will only increase, and more impor­tant­ly, I think the op tem­po on our proud reserve com­po­nent … will have to increase because they will become ever more impor­tant in a dimin­ish­ing force.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)