Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, Navy Adm. Jon Greenert, Air Force Gen. Mark Welsh and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos testify Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C. (Colin Kelly / Staff)
WASHINGTON — Senior U.S. military leaders on Wednesday renewed their dire warnings about further defense budget cuts, predicting that a slew of weapon system purchases could be canceled or delayed.
The four chiefs of the armed forces used words like “bleak,” “insidious,” “difficult” and “devastating” when describing the expected effects of another cut to Pentagon spending to a panel of lawmakers. They warned of smaller forces, buying fewer new combat platforms and putting off upgrades to existing ones.
“As with force structure and readiness, if the reduced caps under current law continue, our modernization forecasts are bleak,” Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, told a House panel. “This funding level will impact every one of our investment programs.
“These program disruptions will, over time, cost more taxpayer dollars to rectify contract breaches, raise unit costs, and delay delivery of critical equipment,” Welsh told the House Armed Services Committee. “In terms of investment and modernization, the nation may not recognize the effects of these reductions initially. The damage will be insidious.”
Welsh’s Army, Navy and Marine Corps counterparts used less-dire language in describing the effects of another cut to planned spending of around $45 billion in fiscal 2014. Those cuts would be made only to non-exempt accounts, which officials say make them worse than if applied to the entire nearly $600 billion defense budget.
At one point, they told lawmakers another cut to planned budgets would leave their forces unable to execute some missions. “Budgets went down. But our requirements went up,” Gen. Raymond Odierno, Army chief of staff, said.
The four-star officers’ warnings also focused on the future, because more cuts, they said, will force them to delay some next-generation weapon programs.
Adm. Jon Greenert, chief of naval operations, delivered a dire description of what further sequestration cuts would mean for the Navy.
“Investment accounts will be particularly impacted by sequestration in [fiscal] 2014, and we will not be able to use prior-year funds to mitigate shortfalls as we did in [fiscal] 2013,” he said.
Greenert said more “reductions imposed by sequestration and the limitations of a [continuing resolution] will compel us to” take steps such as canceling the planned buy of a Virginia-class attack submarine in 2014, as well as one littoral combat ship and afloat forward staging base.
“Each of these would further worsen the reduction in fleet size,” Greenert said.
He also warned of a need to delay the start of work on the first Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine replacement known as SSBN(X) in 2021 by one year. “This would cause us to be unable to meet US Strategic Command presence requirements when the Ohio-class SSBN retires,” he warned.
The Navy also would have to cancel planned buys of 11 aircraft, including four EA-18G Growlers, one F-35C joint strike fighter and three MH-60 Seahawk helicopters. Delivery of the class-leading aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford would be delayed by two years.
The Air Force would be forced to stop trying to “bandage old aircraft,” Welsh warned, signaling old fleets will be cut to protect new programs.
To that end, he labeled the KC-46 aerial tanker, F-35 and new long-range bomber programs as the service’s top priorities. But, he warned, “sequestration-level cuts would severely threaten each of our top priority programs as well every single lower priority program.”
For the Army, Odierno warned of “significant risk” for its major weapon programs.
“In the event sequestration-level discretionary caps continue into FY14, we will assume significant risk in our combat vehicle development and delay the fielding of Abrams training simulators by two years,” he said. “In our aviation program, we cannot afford to procure a new Armed Aerial Scout program and we will be forced to reduce the production and modernization of 25 helicopters.
“We will reduce system upgrades for unmanned aerial vehicles. We will delay the modernization of air defense command and control systems. If reductions of that magnitude continue into [fiscal 2015] and beyond, every acquisition program will be affected,” Odierno said. “These reductions will significantly impact 100 modernization programs.”
The Army chief also warned of a lack of funds to do science and technology work on programs such as the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and the Paladin Integrated Management program.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos focused his comments mostly on the size of his service under further spending cuts.
“We have determined that within sequestration-level budgets that our force design of 174,000 is the lowest temporary level that can retain America’s crisis response force. This provides a minimum acceptable level of readiness,” Amos said. “Further reductions will incur heightened, and in some cases prohibitive, risk to the National Security Strategy.”
Members of the committee blasted sequestration.
Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., quipped he has concluded “it is a Latin word meaning stupid.” And Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., said Congress’ failure to undo sequestration shows “we are failing” by not adequately funding the military.
The GOP-controlled House and the Democratic-run Senate “need to get their acts together,” Cooper said.
Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., highlighted the biggest political elephant standing in the way of a deal that would lessen or void the remaining nine years and around $450 billion in sequester cuts.
Some members — and even some congressional leaders — have shown no interest in turning off the across-the-board cuts to non-exempt federal accounts, Forbes noted.
Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., said she is worried that lawmakers are doing nothing to avoid further defense budget reductions.
To that end, GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona said this week that summer-long talks between a group of Republicans and White House officials on a bill to address sequestration have broken down.
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