Sequestration Cuts 2013: A Major National Security Threat

On 26 April, Senator John McCain’s office issued a press statement:

“… Dealing with the impacts of sequestration on a case-by-case basis does nothing to fix the underlying issue and prolongs this damaging policy … Just this week, the chief of staff of the Army stated that the draconian spending cuts will force the Army to cut an additional 100,000 troops while compromising 'our ability to respond' to national security challenges around the world, including on the Korean Peninsula”

I share the Senator’s concern and have the distinct impression that many in both the Congress and the public seem to be under the impression senior military leaders are crying wolf to protect their turf. True enough the military budget has grown during the last 20 years we have been at war (Gulf War, Forgotten Iraq War of the ‘90’s, Iraq 2003, and Afghanistan); but it’s been my experience most of the public is now aware of what’s actually in the budget. How can you fix what you don’t understand? Speaking before the House Armed Services Committee this month, Defense Secretary Hagel broke down the FY 2014 budget request as follows:

- Military pay and benefits, including TRICARE and retirement costs, $170.2 billion. That represents 32% of the total base budget.

- Operating costs, including $77.3 billion for civilian pay, total $180.1 billion, representing 34% of the total budget.

- Acquisitions and other investments, procurement, research, development, tests and evaluations, and new facilities construction, which represents 33 percent of the budget at $176.3 billion.

Here are my top three areas of concern:

Intelligence Capability. In the 1990’s, the intelligence community was reduced by 23%. The CIA’s human intelligence capability was particularly hard hit. That shortfall was one of the reasons the intelligence community fell short in predicting the timing of Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attack. Testifying before Congress on 18 April, James Clapper the Director of National Intelligence state:

“Sequestration forces the Intelligence Community to reduce all intelligence activities and functions without regard to impact on our mission...the degradation to intelligence will be insidious. It will be gradual and almost invisible until, of course, we have an intelligence failure.”

Readiness. Sequestration has caused the services to cut back drastically on maintenance and training. General Raymond Odierno, the Army’s Chief of Staff said the Army has had to cut back on 80% of its training and cancelled depot maintenance for the 3rd and 4th quarter of this year. He warned:  “The cost of these actions is clear -- we are sacrificing readiness to achieve reductions inside the short period of this fiscal year. And readiness cannot be bought back -- not quickly and not cheaply.” The other services are facing similar challenges. The services are also being forced to make drastic personnel cuts. The Army is looking at a 14% reduction in end strength and a 40% reduction in brigade combat teams. This leads to my next concern.

Surge capability.  If our forces are degraded because of lack of training and maintance is broken, how can we effectively respond to an unexpected crisis?  The Navy is facing a $4 Billion operations and maintenance shortfall, which has affected the Navy’s capability to deploy carrier strike groups and amphibious ready groups to confront an unexpected crisis. 

In response to those who say the military is crying wolf, here’s the so what factor using Benghazi as an example.  One angle the media gave little time to was perhaps the military wasn’t able to respond was because they had no assets able to reach the area in time.  Then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told Congress, “…an exhaustive review of the Benghazi events has established the Defense Department responded appropriately to the attacks… there simply was not enough time given the speed of the attacks for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference.”

I’ll end with some questions, what happens if we have to deal with a major crisis now?  The North Korean crisis appears to be winding down, what if it flares up again?  Do we have forces that are trained, manned, and able to deal with a full blown war while also dealing with wars and crises in other parts of the world? We lucked out during World War II when after Pearl Harbor the U.S. won the Battle of Midway which gave us time to reconstitute our naval assets and ultimately when the Pacific war. Will we be so lucky today?