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Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said the greatest threat to America's national security is fiscal uncertainty and potential shortfalls that could "hollow" out the force.
Odierno spoke Jan. 24 to a packed house of Association of United States Army members during a monthly Institute of Land Warfare breakfast meeting.
He said the Joint Chiefs of Staff penned a letter to House and Senate leaders Jan. 14 voicing their concerns over future readiness of the armed forces and stating that three budget conditions are creating a "perfect storm."
First is the possibility of a continuing resolution in fiscal year 2013 that could be extended throughout the year.
"And, for the Army, the continuing resolution will result in a shortfall of more than $6 billion in our operations and maintenance, or ‘O and M,’ accounts," he said adding, "and, it's because we're not able to move money around in a continuing resolution, we're over-prescribed in one part of the budget, we're under-prescribed in another part of the budget, so we have a $6 billion shortfall.
But that $6 billion shortfall would only be the start, he continued.
"Second, the threat of across-the-board cuts due to sequestration or additional DOD cuts remain, and again, we believe this is probably another $6 billion-plus in O and M reductions in '13, so now we have [more than] $12 billion in reductions in fiscal year 13 that we're facing," he said.
"And, there's also uncertainty with regard to overseas contingency funding," Odierno noted.
Adding, "We believe we have a $4 billion shortfall in operations and maintenance in our [overseas contingency operations] accounts for [fiscal year]13, so the Army is facing (almost) $17 billion worth of shortfalls that we're going to have to figure out how to deal with if we don't come to some conclusions by the first of March."
He said these budget conditions coupled with current legislation might restrict decision-making with respect to personnel and equipping, while also underfunding force readiness, making prioritization more important.
Obviously, he said, units in Afghanistan or heading there and forces in Korea would continue to be properly equipped and ready, but the Army will look at whether it can continue funding the ready brigade at Fort Bragg, N.C.
If the fiscal uncertainty isn't resolved by March 1, Odierno said it's his guess that the Army will very quickly go to extremely low levels of readiness within six months. He added that would include canceling combat training center rotations.
"We'll have to reduce our work in the depots which will delay the reset of our equipment coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan," Odierno said.
"We're going to have to delay the maintenance on our current fleet, and the sad part about this is once you start these delays, it will take longer and longer and longer to catch up; so this won't be just a '13 (2013) readiness issue, it will be a readiness issue that will go into '14 and '15,” he noted.
Adding, "In the past we've taken reductions during relative peace and stability, but in my mind as I look at the world today, there's instability on every continent around the world and there's incredible uncertainty on what the future may hold," citing hotbeds and potential hotbeds such as Algeria, Libya, Syria, Iran and North Korea.
"We will continue to prioritize modernization so that our current and future force is prepared for a wide range of military operations, but we've had to slow down our modernization efforts," Odierno said. "At the same time our ability to modernize the force will be balanced with issues of readiness and end strength.
"Our biggest challenge is getting the right balance, and we can't do that until we have predictability in our budget process. If we don't have predictability, it's impossible for us to build a balanced force of end-strength modernization readiness."