Administration officials recently spoke publicly for the first time about specifically how sequestration would undermine military readiness.
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and acting director of the Office of Management and Budget Jeffrey Zients argued that “sequestration would be devastating” to the Defense Department. However, Congress and the Administration have shown little initiative to fix their mistakes and avoid this self-imposed blow to national security.
Passed by Congress last August, sequestration was part of a compromise to secure an increase in the debt ceiling. In practical terms, sequestration requires reductions in defense spending of over $500 billion over the next 10 years. Obama praised the compromise and dismissed concerns about irresponsible spending as simply “a manufactured crisis.”
As Zients pointed out, “Sequestration, by design, is bad policy.” The cuts were simply a time-buying measure, intended to be so severe that Congress would be forced to make sound reforms down the road. Nonetheless, Zients refused to stray from the Administration’s talking points, arguing that offsetting sequestration necessitates raising taxes on wealthy Americans, even though such tax increases are unnecessary and would harm the economy.
A year after Obama signed the measure into law, no alternative has been implemented, and the January deadline is looming.
The Administration recently announced that military personnel accounts are exempt from the cuts, meaning that sequestration will result in 12 percent cuts in all other defense programs.
In addition to reducing training for deploying units, halting construction projects, and limiting services to military families, sequestration could slow procurement of critical weapons systems.
Carter estimated that, under sequestration, the Pentagon would purchase “four fewer F-35 aircraft, one less P-8 aircraft, 12 fewer Stryker vehicles, and 300 fewer Army medium and heavy tactical vehicles compared with the requests in the President’s Budget for [fiscal year] 2013.”
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, though critical for maintaining U.S. air superiority, has already suffered significant cuts. The P-8 Poseidon, designed for maritime operations, is desperately needed to replace the Navy’s aging fleet of P-3 Orions, two-thirds of which are grounded.
Carter also predicted delays for the already stretched Navy in receiving the new CVN-78 carrier, the Littoral Combat Ship, the DDG-51 destroyer, and the replacement for Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines.
Maintaining a top-notch carrier force is a security necessity. U.S. law requires that the Navy maintain a fleet of at least 11 operational carriers. However, even without sequestration the Navy faces operating below strength for nearly three years until the CVN-78 comes online in 2015. Furthermore, delays in the development of a replacement for Ohio-class submarines will only weaken a critical element of America’s nuclear deterrent force.
“Taken together,” Carter warned, the cuts from sequestration “would represent a major step toward the creation of an unready, hollow force.”
Protecting the nation is one of foremost duties of the federal government. Congress should act quickly and responsibly to reorder its spending priorities to head off this defense disaster.
Maxford Nelson is a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation.