Army could lose 100,000 soldiers due to sequestration
Wednesday - 4/24/2013, 7:22am EDT
By Jared Serbu
Of all the military services facing budget pressure this year, the Army is in the direst of straits. The budget Congress finally passed a month ago will help matters, but the service says it's still more than $15 billion short of funds in fiscal 2013.
Army senior leaders told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday that the elimination of a continuing resolution and the passage of a formal budget only fixed about a third of the funding problem they face this year. The sequestration cuts that Congress left in place will force them to find $7.6 billion in savings in the next six months.
On top of that, the Army is short $7.8 billion in its Afghanistan wartime account because of higher-than-expected operating costs.
That's just the 2013 problem.
A long term problem
If sequestration remains in place for the next 10 years, as it is in current law, the Army will have to cut, at a minimum, another 100,000 soldiers beyond the reductions it already has planned, said Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff. He said those reductions would have to begin immediately in 2014.
Gen. Ray Odierno, chief of staff, Army
"And by the time we paid separation benefits for these soldiers, the costs to separate them would exceed the savings garnered," he said. "The maximum amount we can reduce the force without breaking readiness and including excessive separation costs is somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 soldiers per year. But this would only save $2 billion per year. So right now, almost the full weight of sequester will again fall on the modernization and readiness accounts, where such drastic cuts will take years to overcome. The net result will be units that are overmanned, unready and unmodernized. The steepness of the sequestration cuts forces us to be unready and hollow."
Odierno told the Senate he began his career as a young officer in the "hollow" Army of the late 1970s and does not want to leave the service in the same condition. But he said that's the inevitable result under current law.
"We can't allow this to get away from us in a way that's going to take us five or 10 years to recover," he said. "The steepness of these cuts will not allow us to maintain the right balance between end strength, modernization and readiness."
John McHugh, the secretary of the Army, said the service already has had to make damaging cutbacks to readiness in 2013: 80 percent of Army units will see degraded levels of training this year.
"The things that we've already done will, in some instances, take multiple years to fix, regardless of whether sequestration continues," he said. "We're just creating holes that can't get fixed overnight. For instance, at the Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, sequestration will require the reduction of more than 500 training seats. Those don't just get recreated in a year's time. To take another example, we'll only be able to rotate two brigade combat teams through our national training center. All of those other teams will be put back into the queue, and it's not like they'll make up that readiness in a six month period. Those are holes that we're going to be dealing with for some time even in the best of circumstances. We're going to be significantly challenged for some time."
Indiscriminate hits across the board
McHugh and Odierno said the sequestration cuts are too large, but more importantly for the Army, they're too sudden. They argued that if the spending reductions have to happen, they should be pushed to the "out years" so that the Army has time to plan and make intelligent decisions.
That's not the way the Army's making budget cuts right now, partially because of the indiscriminate nature of sequestration. In order to protect current operations in Afghanistan, items like training, readiness and civilian pay are taking an indiscriminate hit.
Odierno said he worries it's only a matter of time before those decisions create big human capital problems and cause the Army's most talented people to look for something else to do.