Naval cuts jeopardize US war readiness, experts say

Robby Soave | Reporter

The threat of sequestration and looming budget deficits is already impacting the military readiness of the U.S., according to some defense analysts.

A recent Defense Department memo outlined the difficult steps the armed services must take to cope with the nation’s perilous fiscal situation. The memo recommended that the department fire administrative personnel, cut down on research and development, and cancel routine maintenance checks for naval ships.

“Cancel 3rd and 4th quarter ship maintenance availabilities and aviation and ground depot level maintenance activities,” the memo suggested.

The maintenance recommendations are particularly worrisome, and impact the U.S.’s naval preparedness, said Brian Slattery, a defense expert at the Heritage Foundation.

“The military is already having trouble in some circumstances meeting its readiness requirements,” he said in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Maintenance is already a pretty significant concern, particularly with the navy.”

Past maintenance deferments have already put a strain on the fleet, he said.

“You have to spend more money on maintenance because your ships, your planes, your tanks are getting older and more worn out and they have to go into the shop more often, sort of like an old car,” he said. “It sort of builds upon itself.”

The memo also warned that sequestration and budget uncertainty would be particularly insurmountable for the Defense Department in case of war.

“Either of these problems, in isolation, would present serious budget execution challenges to the Department, negatively impacting readiness and resulting in other undesirable outcomes. This situation would be made even more challenging by the need to protect funds for wartime operations.”

A recent letter from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Congress put the matter in no uncertain terms.

“The readiness of our armed forces is at a tipping point. We are on the brink of creating a hollow force.”

Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel, whose confirmation hearings began Thursday, is expected to preside over a gradual decline in funding for the armed services. This is the wrong approach, Slattery said.

“The Secretary of Defense should be clearly stating what US national security strategy is, and what it will take to implement that strategy, not, ‘this is how much money we have so these are the things we are going to do with that money,'” he said.

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which was signed into law on January 2nd, delayed sequestration from taking effect until March 1st.

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