11 Mar 15. Unrelenting budget constraints have degraded Army readiness and modernization to historically low levels, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told a Senate panel here today.
Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee alongside Army Secretary John M. McHugh, Odierno discussed the impact of sequestration on the Army’s readiness and modernization, and the risks of miscalculation and underinvestment.
“This is not the time to be divesting … our military capabilities and capacities,” Odierno said. “But over the last three years we have done just that, decreasing the active component end strength by 80,000, and our National Guard and reserves by 18,000.”
“We have deactivated 13 active duty brigade combat teams,” he said, “and we are in the process of eliminating three active component combat aviation brigades.”
Citing the Aviation Restructure Initiative, Odierno said the Army is reducing its total aviation force by 800 aircraft, with almost 700 coming out of the active component.
“We have slashed our investments in modernization by 25 percent,” he said. “We’ve purged our most-needed infantry fighting vehicle modernization and scout helicopter developmental programs.
“The unrelenting budget impasse has also compelled us to degrade readiness to historically low levels,” Odierno continued. “Today, only 33 percent of our brigades are ready, when our sustained readiness rate should be closer to 70 percent.”
Compromises Equal Risk
The general said the Army’s compromises in modernization and readiness, combined with reductions to force size and capabilities, translate into strategic risk.
“We are unable to generate residual readiness to respond to unknown contingencies or to reinforce ongoing operations,” Odierno said.
“We have fewer soldiers,” he added, “the majority of whom are in units that are not ready. They are manning aging equipment at a time when a demand for Army forces is much higher than anticipated.”
Presidential Budget ‘Bare Minimum’
Odierno said President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2016 budget proposal recognizes the Army’s challenges, but represents the “bare minimum” needed to execute the Army’s missions and meet the requirements of the national defense strategy.
“In order for this budget to work,” he said, “all of our proposed reforms in pay and compensation must be approved. All of our force structure reforms must be supported — to include the Aviation Restructure Initiative.”
The Army must be allowed to eliminate $500 billion per year of excess infrastructure capacity, Odierno added.
“We can undertake the proposed reforms or we can accept increased risk,” he said. “If not approved, this equates to a potential $12 billion shortfall in our budget — comprised of $6 billion in reforms and $6 billion in costs that are masked in [overseas contingency operations] funding that must ultimately transfer into our base budget.”
Further Reductions with Sequestration
During his testimony, Odierno emphasized that the return of sequestration would render the Army unable to meet the national defense strategy.
“Sequestration would compel us to reduce, even further, the Army end strength — forcing out another 70,000 from the active component, 35,000 from the National Guard, and 10,000 from the Army Reserves,” he said.
“We would cut out 10 to 12 additional combat brigades,” Odierno added. “Modernization would come to a standstill, training would go unfunded, and readiness rates — both unit and individual — would fall to very low levels.”
Anything below the president’s budget, he said, will compromise strategic flexibility, because it would inadequately fund readiness.
“[Sequestration] further degrades an already underfunded modernization program,” Odierno said. “It impacts our ability to conduct simultaneous operations and shape regional security environments.”
Sequestration also puts into question the Army’s capacity to deter multiple adversaries,” he added.
Still Seeking Efficiencies
Despite confronting a fragile budget and looming Budget Control Act caps, Odierno said, the Army continues to seek efficiencies while adapting to an unstable world.
This is being done, he said, by taking advantage of the Army’s reset program to reduce depot maintenance by $3.2 billion dollars; a reduction in contractor logistics support for cost savings of nearly $2 billion; and identifying and avoiding costs in excess of $12 billion through the Aviation Restructure Initiative.
Odierno also said the Army has eliminated 12,000 positions by reducing all two-star level and above headquarters staffs by 25 percent, and reorganizing brigade combat teams to eliminate overhead and maximize combat capacity.
The Army continues to achieve individual and collective training efficiency as it moves forward, he said.
Inspired by Service
Odierno praised the Army’s men and women and said he was inspired by their “unparalleled experience and professionalism.”
The Army’s soldiers “demonstrate unwavering dedication and commitment to the mission, to the Army and to the nation,” he said.
Odierno said the Army has units engaged in Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Kosovo and across the African continent.
“We [also] have rotational forces in Europe, Kuwait, and throughout the Pacific, to include Korea,” he added.
Odierno said the Army owes its soldiers “the right equipment, the best training, and the appropriate family programs, health care and compensation packages, commensurate with their sacrifices.”
The decisions the Army makes today and in the near future “will impact our soldiers, our Army, and our nation for the next 10 years,” Odierno said.
The general told legislators he is looking forward to working with them to solve these “difficult problems.”
(Follow Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallDoDNews)