By Nick Simeone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, March 19, 2015 – With growing threats to both the homeland and global stability, now is not the time to reduce capability and capacity, Army and Air Force leaders told Congress yesterday.
Demand for Army capabilities and presence continues to increase across combatant commands in response to emerging contingencies, Army Secretary John M. McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told the Senate Armed Services Committee during their annual testimony on the president’s defense budget request.
Any further stretch on the force, Odierno said, would force the Army to deploy troops who were not properly trained, something McHugh described as his greatest fear and one that he said keeps him and Odierno awake at night.
Dangers to National, Global Security
In their submitted joint testimony, both leaders emphasized that given the changes in the global security situation that were unforeseen just a year ago, national and global security and the lives of soldiers will be threatened if Army end strength, which is dropping, goes below 980,000 soldiers.
“Sectarian violence exploited by state and nonstate actors, irredentism and terrorist activities are driving conflict around the world,” McHugh and Odierno reported. The Army must have the right size and shape for the world it faces, they added, and if capabilities are not regenerated, “we will fight with the Army we have, but there will be consequences.”
The Army’s budget was cut by $6 billion this year; the service’s base budget request for fiscal year 2016 is just over $126 billion. “We now face a [fiscal 2016] defense spending cap insufficient for operating in an unstable global security environment that presents the Army with a number of urgent, complex and challenging missions,” the Army leaders said. Among those missions, they added, are increased deployments to bolster allies against Russian threats in Eastern Europe, as well as the support mission in Iraq to help defeat terrorists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Sequestration’s Effect on the Air Force
At the same hearing, Air Force leaders made similar arguments, testifying that the expected re-imposition of sequester-related spending cuts in October would leave an already stretched force -- the smallest it has ever been -- unable to carry out half of all the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions it now conducts. This, they explained, would significantly reduce the ability of commanders to collect battlefield intelligence. The fiscal 2016 Air Force budget request stands at $122 billion.
In jointly written testimony, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee Lames and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III told the panel that aging aircraft and stressed fleets have turned capacity into “something of an illusion.”
“The numbers are there, barely, but the capability to command global influence is tenuous,” they said. “What was, in earlier times, a blanket of airpower covering the globe has been worn to mere threads.”
A return to sequestration-level funding will devastate readiness and modernization, the Air Force leaders said.