Army secretary, chief of staff discuss budget, sequestration

Saturday, November 01, 2014

The Army’s top leaders expressed growing concern on Monday, Oct. 13, that continuation of the budget cuts under sequestration will bring such serious erosion in readiness that soldiers could be sent to a conflict unprepared for battle.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said he has vowed to never send soldiers to a fight who were unprepared for combat, such as the ill-fated Task Force Smith in the early days of the Korean War.

"I’ll probably get away with that," Odierno said, because he will leave his office by early next year. "But I worry about the next chief."

Taking questions from reporters at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition, Odierno and Army Secretary John McHugh said they cannot cut modernization any farther and the planned reduction in end strength may be too deep, given the increasing number of global deployments by soldiers.

McHugh restated the service’s concern about trying to maintain a balance among readiness, modernization and force structure during the budget reductions.

"We’re coming down in end strength about as fast as we can," he said.

If there are deeper budget cuts, "there are only a few places to get that, mainly readiness."

Adding, "We think that through 2015 we have the funds to maintain that balance."

On modernization, he said, "We’ve made some hard decisions in aviation and the ground combat fleet."

With those hard choices, "we believe we can make it through 2015. Beyond that we have concerns."

Odierno said he told Congress in 2012 that the Army needed 490,000 active soldiers to execute the national security strategy.

When sequestration kicked in, he said "we probably could do with 450[000], with some risk. The problem is, since I made that statement, the world has increased in instability so much, I’m concerned that even 490[000] isn’t enough."

Asked about Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work’s warning that Congress’ refusal to allow the services to save money by retiring some older weapon systems, such as the Army’s OH-58 Kiowa helicopters, and to reform the military compensation package could create a $31 billion gap between funds and expenses. McHugh said, "The Army does have a share of that," primarily because of compensation.

He estimated the budget gap for the Army at about $12 billion over five years.

Having been a member of Congress for 12 years, McHugh said he understands that for lawmakers agreeing to lower pay raises and a less generous retirement package for troops "are tough things to do. But they are absolutely essential" to bring spending in balance "with budget reality."