“The readiness of our Armed Forces is at a tipping point.”
That’s how General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, began a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee while discussing the Department of Defense’s (DOD) budget woes.
He cites “budget conditions unfolding right now” as the cause of his concerns for U.S. military readiness. This refers to the still looming cuts under sequestration, which were merely delayed as part of the fiscal cliff deal rather than averted permanently.
Furthermore, the lack of a real budget and use of a continuing resolution instead has put additional strain on military planners, who do not know what their budgets will look like months from now and are operating under lower than expected levels from the previous year. These combined budget concerns mean DOD operating budgets will be 20 percent lower than the President’s fiscal year 2013 budget request, according to Dempsey.
What effect this will have on specific military programs remains unclear. However, the DOD already has countless readiness concerns to show for years of underfunded modernization efforts. “Not enough people, not enough parts, not enough training, not enough everything,” lamented Vice Admiral Thomas Copeman, commander of naval surface forces for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. He put the equation thusly: “[Operational] tempos have increased, resources have gone down.” This conundrum occurred before sequestration has taken effect, it is worth noting.
Some of the Navy’s readiness problems have been quite obvious, with mechanical failures causing ships to miss deployments or require increasing maintenance. Shortages of new and ready equipment are present in the Air Force and Army as well: The B-52 bomber fleet celebrated its 60th birthday in 2012; soldiers aren’t receiving the armor they need in combat zones; and training has suffered as naval deployments have been lengthened to fill capability gaps. Those who go into harm’s way to protect America’s liberties deserve better.
The President has made it clear that national security is his lowest priority. Congress still has a chance to fight further cuts to defense before sequestration hits. In these next few months, Congress should prove that it remains committed to providing for the common defense by restoring budget certainty to our armed services.