1. Budget uncertainty weakens U.S. military, Pentagon officials say
With U.S. lawmakers spoiling for another fight over federal spending ahead of the new fiscal year next month, senior Pentagon officials are trekking to Congress with a sobering message: budget uncertainty is wreaking havoc with the armed forces.
The top U.S. military officers and senior defense officials warned in separate hearings this week that annual budget gimmickry plus across-the-board spending reductions of $50 billion are forcing them to cut back in ways that leave much of the military poorly trained and unready to respond in a crisis.
General Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, told lawmakers on Wednesday that if the military has to fully implement nearly $1 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade as envisioned by law, the Army may not be prepared to fight a long war.
"In my view, these reductions will put at substantial risk our ability to conduct even one sustained major combat operation," he told the Armed Services Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Deborah James, President Barack Obama's nominee to be Air Force secretary, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday the problem was not only the size of the cuts, but the uncertainty of the congressional budgeting process as well as the across-the-board nature of some reductions.
Under current law, the Defense Department is cutting about $500 billion in projected spending over the next decade through its regular budgeting.
In addition, it faces $50 billion a year in spending reductions under a mechanism known as sequestration, which applies a flat percentage cut to every budget item that exceeds a spending cap, regardless of strategic import.
Tough to Plan
Spending fights in Congress add additional uncertainty to the Pentagon budgeting process, officials said.
Last year Congress funded the government for nearly half a year by means of a continuing resolution, which extended funding at the levels of the previous year. The process, likely to be repeated again this year, created a mismatch between spending needs and funding levels, plus it prevented the services from beginning new projects.
"Trying to plan for the future is incredibly difficult and enormously time-consuming when you are planning ... for different scenarios," James said, adding that she hoped the government could reach a deal to lift sequestration and give the services a better budget number.
"We would like to know what we are really executing for and planning for and have a greater degree of certainty than what has been the case," James said.
While Pentagon officials voice concern about the scale of the spending cuts, they are particularly worried about the speed of the reductions as a result of sequestration.
Achieving savings through a balanced reduction of the force size and eliminating excess capacity takes several years. To achieve immediate savings, the military is forced to cut from current spending for training and maintenance, leaving the services ill-prepared for a crisis.
The top military officers painted a grim picture of the impact of cutting $1 trillion in defense spending.
While the services have emphasized that troops preparing to deploy to Afghanistan would be fully trained, Odierno said that 85 percent of the Army's active and reserve combat units would be unprepared to fight after another year's worth of cuts.
Cuts beyond the 2014 fiscal year would jeopardize the Army's new weapons programs and further erode training for soldiers, he said. The Army would rebuild readiness between 2018 and 2023, but most likely by reducing the size of the active army to 420,000, about 70,000 fewer troops than current envisioned.
Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations, said further cuts meant the Navy would be able to deploy one carrier strike force in the Pacific, one to the Arabian Sea and maintain only one at home to rush forward in an emergency.
Ordinarily the Navy has three carrier strike groups at home that it can send overseas in a crisis. Over the long run, the Navy's fleet size would fall to 255 ships in 2020, versus its current plan for 306, he said.
General Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, said he would have to reduce pilot flying hours by 15 percent due to the 2014 cuts and curtail or cancel major exercises. Over the long term, the service would have to cut about 25,000 airmen, about 4 percent of the total, and eliminate 550 aircraft, about 9 percent of the inventory.
General James Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, said he would have to cut the size of his force by 8,000 Marines to a total 174,000, a number he said was the smallest that could effectively go to war and conduct other ongoing operations. (Reuters 9.19.13)
2. Today is National POW/MIA Recognition Day
Each September, the Defense Department holds a POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony to honor those who were prisoners of war (POW) or missing in action (MIA). The September 2013 ceremony is being held today September 20 at the River Terrace Parade Field of the Pentagon, overlooking the Potomac River. Attending the ceremony are senior Pentagon civilian and military officials, active duty and retired military personnel, representatives of veterans' organizations, and relatives of those who remain unaccounted for. John Stovall, national security director and Freddy Gessner, assistant director are attending this ceremony to represent The American Legion. Mr. Gessner will also be participating in the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office mission status and family update meeting this afternoon.
3. Presidential Proclamation
President Barack Obama has issued a proclamation declaring Sept. 20, 2013 National POW/MIA Recognition Day. The following is the text of the Presidential Proclamation:
Our country endures because in every generation, courageous Americans answer the call to serve in our Armed Forces. They represent the very best of the human spirit, stand tall for the values and freedoms we cherish, and uphold peace and security at home and around the globe. Today, we pay tribute to the service members who have not returned from the battlefield, we stand beside their families, and we honor those who are held captive as prisoners of war. We will never forget their sacrifice, nor will we ever abandon our responsibility to do everything in our power to bring them home.
America remains steadfast in our determination to recover our missing patriots. Our work is not finished until our heroes are returned safely to our shores or a full accounting is provided to their loved ones. We must care for the men and women who have served so selflessly in our name, and we must carry forward the legacy of those whose fates are still unknown. Today, and every day, we express our profound appreciation to our service members, our veterans, our military families, and all those who placed themselves in harm's way to sustain the virtues that are the hallmarks of our Union.
On September 20, 2013, the stark black and white banner symbolizing America's Missing in Action and Prisoners of War will be flown over the White House; the United States Capitol; the Departments of State, Defense, and Veterans Affairs; the Selective Service System Headquarters; the World War II Memorial; the Korean War Veterans Memorial; the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; United States post offices; national cemeteries; and other locations across our country. We raise this flag as a solemn reminder of our obligation to always remember the sacrifices made to defend our Nation.
Now, Therefore, I, Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim September 20, 2013, as National POW/MIA Recognition Day. I urge all Americans to observe this day of honor and remembrance with appropriate ceremonies and activities.
In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this nineteenth day of September, in the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.
4. POW/MIA Update / Recently accounted for:
• 2nd Lt. Vernal J. Bird, U.S. Army Air Forces, 5th Air Force, 3rd Bombardment Group, 13th Bombardment Squadron was lost in March, 1944, when his A-20G Havoc bomber crashed in Papua New Guinea. He was accounted for Aug. 28, 2013. He will be buried with full military honors Sept. 28, 2013, in Springville, Utah.
• Sgt. Melvin E. Wolfe, U.S. Army, K Company, 31st Regimental Combat Team, was lost Dec. 12, 1950, during the battle of the Chosin Reservoir. He was accounted for Aug. 26, 2013. He will be buried with full military honors Sept. 23, 2013, in Boulder City, Nev.
• Pfc. Ronald C. Huffman, U.S. Army, K Company, 3rd Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, was lost on Feb. 12, 1951, during a battle near Saemal, South Korea. He was accounted for on Aug. 8, 2013. He will be buried with full military honors in Princeton, W.Va.
Director, National Security / Foreign Relations Division