Services Leaders Make Plea for More Funding to Boost Readiness
By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON — The second highest-ranking officers of the four armed services painted a grim picture of poorly funded, undersized, over-stretched forces, with aging equipment that is not being adequately maintained, leaving them straining to meet current operational demands, but unable to carry out the current national security strategy without risking higher casualties.
In a lengthy session before the House Armed Services Committee on Feb. 7, all four of the leaders urged Congress to remove the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) and the threat of sequestration that has reduced defense funding and forced them to sacrifice modernization and the readiness of their forces to keep deployed units combat ready.
Adm. William Moran, the vice chief of naval operations, said the Navy is the smallest it has been in 99 years, has too many of its ships and submarines unable to deploy and less than half of its aircraft are ready to fly, due to age and overdue maintenance.
Gen. Glenn Walters, the assistant Marine Corps commandant, said the service is deploying ready forces at the cost of readiness in the follow-on units, needs to grow from its current 182,000 Marines to 194,000, and must replace its aged and worn out tactical aircraft and ground combat equipment.
Gen. Daniel Allyn, the Army vice chief of staff, said in his written testimony that only one-third of the ground brigade combat teams and one-fourth of the aviation combat teams are ready to deploy. He also called for increased end strength.
And Gen. Stephen Wilson, the Air Force vice chief of staff, said his force is the smallest and oldest in history and “the demand for our airmen and missions exceeds the supply.”
Moran, Walters and Wilson warned that unless Congress passes a full-year funding bill to replace the reduced spending levels of the 2017 continuing resolution (CR), or approves an emergency supplemental to add money, they would have to stop flying non-deployed aviation units in July or August, months before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
The plea for an end to sequestration and additional money to expand and modernize, and to maintain existing forces, was met by almost unanimous support among the committee members, with Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper, acting as ranking Democrat, joining Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, in urging repeal of the BCA, at least as it affects defense.
Getting similar agreement in the full House and Senate, however, could be more difficult as many Democrats will insist on also removing the budget caps for domestic spending and many Republicans opposed any additional spending that increases the deficit.
Thornberry told reporters after the hearing that House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has authorized the House Appropriations Committee to start drafting a 2017 funding bill to replace the CR, which expires April 28. He also was expected the White House shortly to send a supplemental bill that, according to some reports, would provide as much as $30 billion in extra funding for defense and border security.
The four service leaders, who will appear Feb. 8 before the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke of alarmingly low levels of combat readiness, which they attributed to the shortage of funding that has reduced their force levels, slowed modernization and forced them to delay needed maintenance to equipment being heavily used to meet the growing demands of the widespread fight against extremists and the growing challenges from Russia and China.
They all called for increasing and modernizing their forces, but most said the immediate need was money to reverse the current lack of ready troops and equipment. Moran, Walters and Wilson said their pilots and aircrews are flying less than they need to maintain combat readiness and some not even enough to meet the minimum required for safety.
The lack of flying hours also may be acerbating a problem of retaining trained pilots because the civilian airlines are hiring about 7,000 new pilots a year, the Navy, Marine and Air Force leaders said.
Asked about the need for another round of base closing, Allyn and Wilson strongly supported it, saying they had 21 and 24 percent excess infrastructure. Moran said the Navy was “about where we need to be,” and Walters did not comment. Marine leaders have consistently said they did not need another base realignment and closures.