Army chief of staff urges smarter sequestration strategy

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Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno says that while budget cuts are necessary and inevitable, the way sequestration has been carried out is having detrimental effects on military readiness.

“What keeps me up at night is if I’m asked to deploy 20,000 soldiers somewhere, I won’t be able to prepare them the way we would like because of sequestration. … Most importantly, it probably equals more casualties,” the general warned an audience at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “It should’ve been written differently so we could enact it differently.”

Across-the-board budget cuts have fallen most heavily on the military, as it winds down from its engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. Budget cuts are slated to shave almost $1 trillion from the military by 2023.

Odierno’s problem with sequestration is maintaining the proper balance of modernization and readiness while decreasing military spending. Under sequestration, the general explained, “we can’t take people out fast enough. You have to pay out benefits as you let people go.”

But instead of permanently shrinking its armed forces or civilian counterparts, DoD has been making headlines with extensive furloughs of civilian personnel in an attempt to reach its sequestration cuts, forcing 650,000 civilian employees to be docked for 11 days pay over the next 11 weeks. But despite the show of effort, The Daily Caller News Foundation reported on recent arguments that even the 20 percent pay cut isn’t helping at all.

Though Odierno warned that the timing and style of the sequester cuts was dangerous, he supported the idea of decreasing military spending overall.

With the withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan in 2013, Odierno sees a shift in Army operations towards smaller, more focused action instead of large-scale troop deployments.

“For the Army, the future is about how we’re scaling and tailoring our forces in order for us to be globally response,” he said. Small elements to meet niche needs — that’s what we working for.”

Odierno said that despite his desire to move to smaller military action, the Army continues to monitor ongoing turmoil in the Middle East and expanding operations in the Asia-Pacific region.

Odierno pledged that “the one thing I don’t want to do is make the mistake we made back in 2003 of not understanding what we’re getting involved in,” emphasizing shared knowledge across services, departments and nations to ensure effective military action.

But military readiness and modernization also relies upon keeping up research in defense technologies, the general argued, warning against wide swaths of cuts in science and technologies. “Ballistic missile defense is key,” Odierno contended.

Between specific cuts to the program and sequestration, missile defense spending has decreased from $10.3 billion in FY 2012 to $8.8 billion in FY 2013, with more cuts to come next year. Odierno argued that more customized changes in how the military spends its money, instead of overall cuts affecting such programs, would allow the Army to maintain readiness all while reducing spending.

But while Odierno stressed the importance of research and development investment at the notoriously pro-military think tank, he floated many options for a better system of defense cuts. Compensation was one area. “If we continue the way we’re going, by 2023, 80 percent of our budget is going to be on compensation,” double the amount the Army prefers to dedicate.

Instead Odierno wants to focus on science and technology research to ensure military modernization and readiness. “We’re not going to be able to buy everything we want, but we want to be able to develop the technologies so we can jump back in” when asked to, he argued.

And Odierno took a cue from last week’s 60th anniversary of the armistice to end the Korean War to emphasize the costs of not remaining ready. “We struggled when we first got into the fight” in Korea, Odierno recalled, “because we had reduced too much after World War II, didn’t have enough capabilities, didn’t invest enough — and it cost us thousands of lives.”

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