WASHINGTON: Today, we got a very clear look at the biggest problem with sequestration for the military. If the Budget Control Act goes into full effect, the heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines told the Senate Armed Services Committee today, they will not be able to protect the United States as they are charged to do.
Sequestration was meant to be the poison pill no one would swallow so Republicans and Democrats would be forced to negotiate a way out of America’s debt and funding problems. Then came the Tea Party, bellowing and fulminating that they would not support increases in federal spending. The GOP leadership collapsed. The White House didn’t help much either. Ever since, the Defense Department has been stuck between hoping for temporary deals to relieve sequestration and fulminating about how deaf both sides on the Hill have been to the dangers of sequestration to the military in the long term.
Lindsey Graham, who seems to increasingly serve as one of the few members of either chamber able to discuss sequestration in a rational manner, told the Joint Chiefs they need to go to the White House and tell President Obama that they cannot execute the current strategy of defeating one major power and hold another if sequestration continues.
The ultimate cost, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told the committee, will be that conflicts will last longer. That means, he said, “the butchers bill is paid with American lives.” Milley noted that Army weapons systems’ readiness already is “well below 90 percent, and that is great cause for concern.”
“Go tell the president what you are telling us,” Graham said, noting also “the harm the House (of Representatives) is causing” by its insistence on fiddling with $18 billion in money from the Overseas Contingency Operations fund. “How could your president and your Congress allow that to happen?” Graham asked rhetorically.
This is not the first time the Joint Chiefs of Staff have expressed serious reservations about their ability to protect and defend these United States, as Breaking D readers know.
What effects are we seeing from sequestration? Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein noted how the service has struggled to fund its extensive modernization plans to rebuild the oldest air fleet in American history. A key symptom of that are Service Life Extension Programs (SLEP), the way services identify parts and structures that can be replaced or repaired to extend a weapons life.
“There’s a reason [SLEP is] a four-letter word,” Goldfein said. “The reality is, we only fix what we can accurately predict. Then we put the aircraft into depot maintenance, we pull the skin off, and what we find are things breaking that we never predicted.”
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said his service basically writes off the first quarter of each year because he just can’t plan for it with any certainty.
Sen. John McCain, SASC chair and a former Navy pilot, noted that American pilots are flying fewer hours than they should: “When our pilots are flying less hours a month than Russian and Chinese pilots are, we’re going to have a problem.” Part of that problem is the rate at which pilots are leaving the Navy, Marines and Air Force for civilian jobs. If they can’t fly the advanced aircraft they trained for, they might as well go somewhere they can fly something on a regular basis.
McCain summed it all up in his opening statement:
“Far too often, Washington is governed by crisis and stopgap deals like continuing resolutions, omnibus spending bills, and episodic budget agreements that are a poor substitute for actually doing our jobs. It has become an unfortunately all-too-familiar cycle of partisan gridlock, political brinksmanship, and back-room dealing. Is it any wonder why Americans say they are losing trust in government?
“And through it all, we lose sight of the fact that the dysfunction of Washington has very real consequences for the thousands of Americans serving in uniform and sacrificing on our behalf all around the nation and the world. From Afghanistan to Iraq and Syria, from the heart of Europe to the seas of Asia, our troops are doing everything we ask of them.
“But we must ask ourselves: Are we doing everything we can for them? Are we serving them with a similar degree of courage in the performance of our duties? The answer, I say with profound sadness, is: We are not.”