AF Secretary: End sequestration or lose next fight

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The devastating effects of continued sequestration-level funding were the topic of discussion during a House Armed Services Committee hearing with the senior leaders of all military branches on March 17.

“I believe sequestration is going to place American lives at greater risk both at home and abroad,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. “In fact, if sequestration remains the law of the land, we will not, in the United States Air Force, simultaneously be able to defeat an adversary in one part of the world, deny a second adversary the objectives they seek in a second part of the world, as well as defend the homeland. That, of course, is our national strategy, and I’m telling you we won’t be able to do it under sequestration.”

The service secretaries and chiefs were asked by members of the committee to “speak plainly” about the strain of sequestration-level funding and the future impacts it will have.

“The fundamental issue is going to be that the American people cannot expect their military to do what we’ve been asked to do in the past, if we stay at these funding levels,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III.

Although all services are seeking different funding levels to invest in different areas, they agree these levels will only help maintain the current commitments and requirements of the U.S. military. The Air Force acknowledged these levels are still less than ideal, but will help to repair the damage already caused by sequestration.

“Here’s a shocking statistic, I think,” James said. “More than half of our combat air forces are not sufficiently ready today for a high-end fight — meaning a fight in which the enemy has the capacity to shoot back at you, to shoot you down, to interfere with you through integrated air defenses and the like. More than half of our forces are not sufficiently ready for such a fight.”

Even with the requested additional $10 billion, it will still take the Air Force eight to 10 years to recover that readiness, Welsh said. The Air Force also has requested to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II and slow the growth of military compensation in the proposed budget.

“We know these are not popular decisions or popular choices,” James said. “But we ask you to keep in mind that, if you don’t like these choices, hold on to your hats because under sequestration, it gets uglier and uglier and uglier. For example, under sequestration, our Air Force would not only have to retire the A-10 as well as slow the growth in military compensation, but in addition, we would be facing the following actions: Divest the U-2, the Global Hawk Block 40, and the KC-10 (Extender) fleets. We would have to reduce our combat air patrols — our Reapers and our Predators — up to 10 orbits. We would defer 14 F-35 (Lightning IIs), which would drive up the costs. We would cancel the adaptive engine program, and then we would have to reduce our investments in space and cyber and nuclear and science and technology and readiness and people.”

The panel of witnesses was asked to break down the overall effects of sequestration in a simple, digestible explanation.

“When you hear terms like ‘high risk’ or ‘significant risk’ come from a military leader, you should translate that as ‘not guaranteed success,’ because that’s what it means to us,” Welsh said.

A U.S. military not able to guarantee the success of its endeavors fails to meet the National Security Strategy, and ultimately becomes irrelevant and ineffective.

“Our National Security Strategy requires that we be able to do three very important things in near simultaneous fashion. We cannot do them in that sort of fashion under sequestration,” James said. “I worry that we will have Airmen who will needlessly die and become injured. I worry that we will be slower to respond. Ultimately, we could lose in trying to reach our objectives.”

She explained that with the constant strain of sequestration-level funding, “Something’s got to give.”

“I think everything is threatened under sequestration,” James said. “And most of all I fear that American lives would be at risk. I just hope and pray it doesn’t take a catastrophe in this country to wake up.”

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