With two weeks to go before $46 billion in cuts to the Pentagon’s fiscal 2013 budget take effect, the military’s top brass appealed to the Senate Armed Services Committee during a Feb. 12 hearing for a delay or replacement for the budget penalty known as sequestration.
And while Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged that he is running out of adjectives to describe the horror of sequestration, the hearing did unearth a couple of new details about its effects on investment accounts and fleet sizes.
For example, Adm. Mark Ferguson, the vice chief of naval operations, told Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that the full force of sequestration over 10 years would reduce the Navy’s fleet by two aircraft carrier strike groups and shrink its overall fleet by 50 ships to a total of 220-230.
He told reporters after the hearing that sequestration would also reduce the purchase of E-2 Hawkeye aircraft, P-8 Poseidons andJoint Strike Fighters.
The Air Force foresees its Joint Strike Fighter purchase for fiscal 2013 being cut by one or two aircraft, Gen. Mark Welsh told reporters after the hearing. Plus, its research and development accounts would be slashed, prompting delays to the program.
“We would lose $176 million out of the [research, development technology and engineering] account for the F-35, which affects things like the next version of software upgrades, the development of the block 4 aircraft with the proper software,” Welsh says. “All that would be slid.”
Funding the Air Force with a continuing resolution that draws on fiscal 2012 funding could cause problems for the service, particularly with programs like thetanker, because funding is expected to ramp up in fiscal 2013. Welsh indicated, however, that the Air Force may be able to work around that hurdle in the short run.
“We can probably slip and slide through [fiscal 2013],” Welsh told reporters. “If we get reprogramming authority, we can cover bills for the rest of the fiscal year. But we have to know what the long-term solution is going to be so that on the first of October, all of the sudden we have money to maintain the program over time. That’s the key for us and we just don’t know those answers yet.”
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said during the hearing that sequestration would cut the Army’s combat power by 40% and added that it would delay all 10 of the service’s top modernization programs.
Republicans and Democrats have yet to agree on a plan to delay or replace sequestration, although they have begun to trade competing proposals to do so.
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) joined Republicans in calling on President Barack Obama to force congressional leaders to deal with the matter.
The sense from Pentagon officials was an increasing level of gloom and doom about the prospect of cuts, which they contend will cost more money rather than contribute to deficit reduction.
“There was a time when I thought that sequestration wasn’t likely,” Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the committee. “I used to say that I was hopeful and optimistic. Then I said I was just hopeful, and now I’m not even hopeful.”