Washington: The armed services are tired, broke and running near empty.
And if Capitol Hill looks to the Pentagon to shoulder any more of the debt burden, those forces will break, according to the vice chiefs of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and the Air Force.
During today’s hearing of the House Armed Services Readiness subcommittee, each vice chief ran through the litany of shortfalls and readiness reductions each service has endured as a result of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli ran through the bad old days of Iraq, when the service was running 15-month troop deployments to fight off the rising insurgency.
Adm. Jonathan Greenert, vice chief of naval operations, said the sea service has hit “an inflection point or tipping point” on how it will maintain its current fleet while supporting its plan to build the sea service to 313 ships.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, Marine Corps assistant commandant, said home station readiness rates have dropped so low, as a result of the high operational tempo in Afghanistan, that his troops cannot do their jobs in other parts of the world.
Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Philip Breedlove, said the “slow and steady” stress being put on the air assets, particularly its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance fleet, has put the Air Force in the same boat as the Marine Corps.
While each service vice chief had their own set of problems, one thing they all agreed on was that service readiness cannot survive any more defense cuts.
“There is no going back,” Chiarelli told the subcommittee.
Each senior officer said they would make due under the White House’s plans to trim $400 billion from the Pentagon’s budget over the next decade.
Any more than that $400 billion would force each service to reassess its base warfighting strategies wholesale.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff nominee Gen. Martin Dempsey said the $800 to $1 trillion cut to defense spending being discussed on the Hill would be “extremely difficult and very high risk,” during his Senate confirmation hearing today.
The Marines would have to make “fundamental changes” to service requirements, according to Dunford. Going past $400 billion would “hollow” out the Air Force, Breedlove said. The Navy’s entire shipbuilding strategy would have to be rewritten, Greenert claimed.
But again, Chiarelli said it best when he said that the Army simply was not ready for the onslaught brought on by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And as those wars wind down and America’s military forces face new threats, the Army vice chief’s message was clear: ‘We do not want to go back to that again.”