Mar 28, 2016
Defense Drumbeat

By Rowan Scarborough - The Washington Times - Sunday, March 27, 2016

...Some lawmakers are warning that budget cuts, a troop drawdown and a decade and a half of wars have created spotty combat readiness, overburdened forces, more fatal accidents and beat-up weapons.

Weeks of congressional testimony from the top brass on next year’s $524 billion defense budget shows that many Army brigades and Air Force squadrons are less ready. The Marine Corps lacks sufficient aircraft to fully train pilots. The Army and Marine Corps can wage small wars but doubt they can meet the demands of a major conflict against, say, China or Russia, in a time frame called for in official military strategy.

After this sober news, the House Armed Services Committee sounded the alarm: “Concerns are growing louder and more frequent about the real-life consequences of cuts to personnel, training, equipment and other military resources as the security situation around the world becomes more precarious by the day.”

Rep. Mac Thornberry, Texas Republican and committee chairman, issued scary statistics. The Marine Corps’ major, or “Class A,” accident rate has shot up from an average of 2.15 per 100,000 flying hours to 3.96.

“We track this very closely, and the simple fact is that we don’t have enough airplanes to meet the training requirements for the entire force,” said Gen. Robert Neller, Marine commandant. “The force that’s deployed is trained and ready.”

“Our ability to meet other regional requirements for major contingency plans, we would build to do that, but we would probably not be able to do it within the time frame that the current plans call for us to arrive to participate in that conflict,” Gen. Neller said.

Gen. Mark Milley, Army chief of staff, said rotary pilots need a minimum of 14 flying hours a month to stay sharp but are getting only 10 hours. Meanwhile, the Army’s major accident rates are increasing.

“It does have our concern,” he testified. “Our aircraft accidents have increased, and we’re very concerned about it.”

Gen. Milley said the force, cut from more than 490,000 to a planned 450,000, is sufficient for counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the overriding strategy of being able to fight a major overseas war is in doubt.

“If that were to happen, then I have great concerns in terms of readiness of our force, the Army forces to be able to deal with that in a timely manner,” he said. “I think the cost, both in terms of time, casualties and troops, and the ability to accomplish military objectives would be very significant.”

The reason: The overall status of Army Combat Brigade teams to mobilize and deploy has dropped.

The Army supplies about 70 percent of troops and equipment requested by combatant commanders and has suffered nearly 70 percent of all war casualties since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“So you’ve got the largest force, the largest demand, the largest stress and the least budget,” he said...

Why the crunch? The overriding factor is the 2011 Budget Control Act that mandated across-the-board cuts and then limited agency spending. Last year’s bipartisan budget agreement provided some relief to the Pentagon — $25 billion. But a congressional aide says it is still $17 billion short for fiscal 2017, which begins Oct. 1.

Mr. McCain criticizes President Obama, saying that as commander in chief he should recognize the readiness crisis and ask Congress for more spending.

“Instead, the president chose to request the lowest level of defense spending authorized by last year’s budget agreement and submitted a defense budget that is actually less in real dollars than last year, despite the fact that operational requirements had grown,” the senator said...

Meanwhile, Congress will continue to hear testimony like this:

“So half of our combat Air Forces are not sufficiently ready for that kind of a high-end fight against one of those great powers,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.

“We have never been busier on such a sustained and global basis,” she added, “and we are doing all of this with roughly 200,000 fewer people and 79 fewer fighter squadrons than we had at the time of Operation Desert Storm. So we are a much, much smaller Air Force. We have been downsizing for years, and our people are very stressed and this simply needs to stop.”

Gen. Milley said the Army is ready to fight the Islamic State, al Qaeda and other international terrorist groups, but he worries about the ability to fully fight China or Russia, or Iran or North Korea, as the National Military Strategy says the Army must be ready to do.

“Right now, the readiness of the United States Army, all components of the United States Army, is not at a level that is appropriate for what the American people would expect to defend them,” the four-star general testified...

114th Congress