Odierno: Readiness has been degraded – We do not want ‘hollow Army’
Testifying on Capitol Hill, the Army’s senior uniformed officer put forward a blunt message to Congress, saying: "As sequestration looms in 2016, I am truly concerned about our future and how we are investing in our nation’s defense … we do not want to return to the days of a hollow Army."
The Army chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno, and his service counterparts met with the Senate Armed Services Committee to discuss their concerns and views on how sequestration would affect the national security environment.
"I believe this is the most uncertain I have seen the national security environment in my nearly 40 years of service," he said.
Adding, "The amount and velocity of instability continues to increase around the world."
Odierno talked of the Islamic State in Iraq, the Levant’s unforeseen expansion, disintegration of order in Iraq and Syria … order splintering in Yemen by al Qaeda and Shia expansion which is quickly approaching civil war, he said.
He also pointed out that anarchy, extremism and terrorism continue in North and West Africa.
Odierno said that Russia’s intervention in Ukraine challenges the resolve of the European Union and the effectiveness of NATO; while in the Pacific, China’s modernization raises concerns as does the cycle of increased North Korean provocation.
He also noted that the rate of humanitarian and disaster relief missions have only heightened the level of uncertainty, along with constant evolving threats to the homeland.
"Despite all of this, we continue to reduce our military capabilities," Odierno said.
Adding, "I would like to remind everyone that over the last three years we have already significantly reduced the capabilities of the United States Army… and this is before sequestration begins again in 2016."
Addressing manpower, he said, the Army’s active component end strength had been reduced by 80,000 soldiers, while the reserve component was cut by 18,000 troops.
That translated to 13 fewer active component brigade combat teams, and also eliminated three active aviation brigades, including the removal of more than 800 rotary-wing aircraft, Odierno said.
"We have already slashed investments in modernization by 25 percent," Odierno said, adding that the "much needed" infantry fighting vehicle modernization program, along with the Scout helicopter development program, had been eliminated.
"Readiness has been degraded to its lowest levels in 20 years," he told the committee, noting that in fiscal year 2013 under sequestration, just 10 percent of the Army brigade combat teams were ready, though today that figure stands at 33 percent.
Additionally, combat training center rotations for seven brigade combat teams were cancelled and over half a billion dollars of maintenance was deferred, he said.
Odierno told the senators that the examples he had just given were what had become of the Army since the 2011 sequestration.
Looking to a FY16 repeat would force the Army to reduce another 70,000 soldiers from the active component, along with 35,000 from the National Guard and another 10,000 from the Army Reserve by FY20.
"We will cut 10-12 additional combat brigades," he said. "We will be forced to further reduce modernization and readiness levels over the next five years because we simply can’t drawdown end strength any quicker to generate the required savings."
He added that another sequestration would have a much more severe impact across the acquisition programs and that would require the Army to end, restructure or delay every program with an overall modernization investment decrease of 40 percent.
Home-station training will also be severely underfunded, which in turn means decreased training levels, he said.
"Within our institutional support, we will be forced to drop over 5,000 seats from initial military training … 85,000 seats from specialized training, and over 1,000 seats in our pilot training programs," Odierno said.
He added, "Our soldier and family readiness programs will be weakened, and our investments in installation training and readiness facility upgrades will be affected, impacting our long-term readiness strategies."
Odierno concluded his remarks by addressing the strategic problems another sequestration would pose and how it would challenge the Army to meet even its current level of commitment to allies and partners.
"It will eliminate our capability, on any scale, to conduct simultaneous operations, specifically deterring in one region while defeating in another," he said.
He added, "Essentially, for ground forces, sequestration even puts into question our ability to conduct even one prolonged, multiphase, combined arms campaign against a determined enemy.
"Ultimately, sequestration limits strategic flexibility and requires us to hope we are able to predict the future with great accuracy … something we have never been able to do," he said.