The U.S. military will be forced to make decisions that increase security risks if sequestration cuts were required again in FY2016 and beyond, according to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
Testifying last week on the FY2015 budget request before the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee (HAC-D), Hagel repeated warnings he has made since the FY2015 budget was submitted two weeks ago. “As I’ve made clear, the scale and timeline of continued sequestration-level cuts would require greater reductions in the military’s size, reach, and margin of technological superiority,” he said.
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, passed by Congress in December, set the total federal funding level for discretionary spending for FY2014 and FY2015. The Act provided about $65 billion in sequester relief over these two years, evenly divided between defense and nondefense programs. As a result no additional sequestration cuts will be necessary in FY2014 and none will be made in FY2015.
However, unless congress takes action in FY2016 to either replace sequestration cuts with a new budget deal or at least mitigate the effects of those cuts, DoD and other federal agencies will be required to implement deep cuts.
Hagel told the HAC-D that such cuts would force the Army to reduce its active force to 420,000 by 2019 rather than to 440,000 to 450,000 specified in the FY2015-19 budget plan. The Army Guard and Reserve forces would be have to decline to 315,000 and 185,000, respectively, rather than the 335,000 and 195,000 levels currently planned. The Marine Corps would have to draw down to 175,000 rather than the 182,000 in the budget plan. Hagel emphasized that these additional troop strength cuts were the minimum that could be required under sequestration.
In addition to more troop strength cuts, Hagel listed a number of modernization programs in the FY2015-19 budget plan that would be affected if Congress re-imposed sequestration cuts. The Navy would have to retire the U.S.S. George Washington and its carrier air wing, lay up six more ships, and defer buying one submarine. The Navy would also be forced to buy two less F-35Cs and three fewer DDG-51 destroyers in the FY2015-19 period, he said.
The Air Force would be forced to retire 80 aircraft, including the KC-10 tanker fleet and the Global Hawk Block 40 fleet, Hagel said. The Air Force would also buy 15 fewer F-35As through FY2019.
Hagel stressed that the potential cuts from sequestration would also affect readiness and research and development (R&D) funding. The Air Force could sustain 10 less Predator and Raptor combat air patrols and would have to make severe cuts to flying hours. Total DoD operations and maintenance (O&M) would grow only two percent under sequestration, rather than the three percent included in the budget plan. Total R&D funding would decline by 1.3 percent, rather than increasing by 1.6 percent as proposed in the plan. Further recovery in funding construction and repairs at military facilities would be limited, Hagel said.
Secretary Hagel emphasized that the proposed FY2015-19 budget plan would enable DoD to manage the increased risks caused by reduced funding levels. However, he warned, “under a return to sequestration spending levels, risks would grow significantly, particularly if our military is required to respond to multiple major contingencies at the same time.”