Automatic budget cuts that could hit on Mar. 1 have top military leadership scrambling, with Army General Ray Odierno warning that they will reduce the service to a “hollow Army.”While the U.S. military could benefit from cutting some fat, the blunt and sudden terms of sequestration have the Pentagon in a panic.
The cuts for 2013 total $85.4 billion, with $42.7 billion hitting defence spending, according to The Washington Post. The cuts will also affect communities and industries that support the military, demonstrating broader effects that the Army projects will result in serious job losses across the nation.
Congress will have to reach a deal soon to avert the sequester, with Democrats looking for a mix of tax increases and spending cuts and Republicans seeking a different package of spending cuts.
Funds that keep the Army functioning and allows training are known as Operations & Maintenance, or O&M funds. According to Gen. Ray Odierno, there's a 'mismatch of funds' due to the continuing resolution, and sequestration is going to make it much worse.
The current shortfall is $6 billion, with sequestration adding another $5.4 billion. That means the Army needs to direct much of its money at soldiers in Afghanistan and other forward-deployed areas and sacrifice training at home.
According to the Department of defence, there will be an 80 per cent drop in training, which will mean less time for soldiers at the shooting range, or participating in training exercises that often help them later in combat.
The Pentagon is adamant about protecting funds for troops deployed to combat in Afghanistan, but the sequester could still hit them in another way.
'We're funding, totally, Afghanistan. We're going to fund, totally, Korea, and sustain the readiness level in Korea,' Odierno said Tuesday at The Brookings Institution. 'What that means is the rest of the forces that are now back in the United States will not be able to train.'
Without crucial training, Odierno may have to keep troops overseas beyond their return date, which would have devastating effects on morale:
'I then have to send forces that aren't ready, or I have to extend forces that are already there,' he said. 'That'll be a decision I have to make as we get closer. We will continue to try to divert money so we do not have to extend people in Afghanistan.'
Military leaders and the President have maintained that the troops' compensation will not be affected by sequestration, and that service men and women don't need to worry about getting their basic pay or housing allowances.
But the troops do need to keep on eye on their health care coverage. The defence Health Program is one notable exception that is eligible for sequester, and is set to receive $3 billion in cuts unless Congress moves money from another account to cover the shortfall.
Budget cuts to the defence Health Program could affect the military Tricare program, and medical research, including studies of post traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and infectious diseases.
The Navy already dropped the presence of aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf from one to two due to budget woes. On Mar. 1, it will get worse:
'Sequestration and the lack of an appropriations bill will have an irreversible and debilitating impact on the Navy's readiness through at least 2014,' said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert. 'We will not be able to respond in the way the nation has expected and depended.'
Instead of being forward deployed and pro-active, the Navy will be forced to respond with less or be very delayed.
As the largest funder of research and development, the Department of defence will be feeling deep cuts in weapons development, missile defence, and space-based communications.
An analysis from the AAAS pegs DoD cuts at over $30 billion, meaning they'll likely have to take a hard look at cutting big budget programs. No specifics have been released on what programs could be on the chopping block, but the biggest could be in fighter aircraft: the F-22 and F-35.
The Pentagon's new R&D budget would closely resemble the one that was in place 12 years ago.
Purchases both large and small will take a big hit, including funding for new weapons, aircraft, ships, ammunition, fuel, and spare parts, according to one report from Army Times.
Not surprisingly, the Air Force is the biggest fuel consumer with its fleet of jet fuelled aircraft. But it should be noted that procurement cuts have after-effects for the entire military:
- Less fuel means reduced flying hours and less effective pilots
- Less ammunition means reduced rifle and pistol training for soldiers, hurting their chances in combat.
- Lack of spare parts results in busted vehicles and aircraft not being fixed.
Since most contracts are working on funds appropriated a year or more ago, the defence industry won't be forced to make drastic cuts right away -- but they will come in 2014 when the full effects are realised.
At that time, the Pentagon will have to scramble to renegotiate hundreds of contracts to fit within its slimmer budget, and cut back on the number of tanks, planes, ships, and bullets they actually can afford.
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