Continuing budget uncertainty, constrained funding levels, and the threat of sequestration are threatening the military’s ability to achieve and sustain readiness levels necessary to meet current mission demands and build the forces capable of meeting future security threats, military leaders told Congress this week.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), Gen. Mark A. Milley, Army Chief of Staff, Adm. John M. Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations, Gen. Robert B. Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps, and Gen. Gen. David L. Goldfein, Air Force Chief of Staff, said budget caps and annual continuing resolutions are worsening already difficult readiness and modernization challenges.

Gen.  Milley warned that the Army will not be able to meet its readiness needs or “build the Army our Nation needs in the future” if sequestration (automatic cuts) returns.  The Army continues to make readiness its number one priority and has balanced competing needs to meet requirements, Milley said.  However, he stressed years of reduced funding levels are beginning to have a serious impact on Army units and installations.  The key to improving readiness is sustained, predictable funding levels, he said.  “Predictable and consistent funding is absolutely essential for the Army to build and sustain current readiness and progress toward a modern, capable future force,” Milley told the committee.  Without such funding the Army will have to “reduce funding future readiness in modernization and infrastructure maintenance, and continue programmed end-strength reductions.”

Adm. Richardson told the committee his main concern is that “the gap between the demands the Navy is facing and the solutions available to address them is growing.”  The funding limitations established in the Budget Control Act (BCA) and the continuing threat of possible sequestration cuts are making it more difficult to balance current readiness and preparations for the future, he said. These funding cuts are occurring when mission demands are increasing Richardson said.  The situation is worsened by continuing uncertainty caused by recurring continuing resolutions, he stated.  “Our ability to achieve true effectiveness and efficiency has been undermined by budget instability, workforce limitation, and eight—now likely nine—straight years of budget uncertainty and continuing resolutions, he said.  The result, he added, is “increased wear and tear on ships, aircraft, and people.”

Gen. Neller stressed that funding cuts and budget instability have had a negative effect on the Marine Corps’ current and future readiness.  “As resources have diminished, the Marine Corps has protected the near-term operational readiness of its deployed and next-to-deploy units in order to meet operational readiness,” he said.  However, he warned this action has come at the cost of increased operational risk.  Continued constrained funding constraints are stretching the Marine Corps, he said.  And, he stressed, “unstable fiscal environments prevent the deliberately planned, sustained effort needed to recover current readiness of our legacy equipment in the near term, and to modernize in the longer term.”  The “harmful effects of ‘sequestration’ are well known and will continue to harm the Marine Corps if they continue,” he cautioned.  “Without consistent sustained funding we cannot rebuild and capitalize our readiness, he said.

Gen. Goldfein warned that “the technology and capability gaps between America and our adversaries are closing dangerously fast,” and stressed that significant investment and sustained funding is required to ensure that forces remain “ready and credible” in the future.  In the current fiscal environment, the Air Force is striving to balance the needs of current readiness and ongoing modernization with limited and uncertain resources.  But, Goldfein stressed, “the Air Force will be challenged to sustain legacy fleets and simultaneously invest in developing and procuring systems required to counter threats in FY2018 and beyond.”  Unstable funding levels “make it difficult to deliberately balance investments to modernize, recover readiness, right-size the force, win today’s fight, and fully execute the Defense Strategic Guidance,” Goldfein said. Predictable funding levels and an end to sequestration “is absolutely critical to rebuilding Air Force capability, capacity, and readiness,” he emphasized.