How the sequester is crippling the Army


As a dyed-in-the-wool fiscal conservative, we fully support the sequester. A line in the sand must be drawn against the ever increasing levels of federal spending. And if that impacts the budget of the armed forces, so be it. Even in a world with multiple and complex security challenges, the stupendous levels of federal debt are our greatest national security threat.

But the problems the sequester foists upon the services are real, and are having real, immediate impacts upon the services.

The actual monetary cuts the sequester imposes on the services are fairly modest. Under FY13 (last year) the main cause of pain was that the full dollar amount of savings had to be realized in only half the fiscal year.  The Obama administration fully expected a deal to avoid the cuts to be inked, and so steadfastly prohibited DoD and the services from even planning for the possibility of the cuts until the very last moment.  The way monies are allocated to the DoD meant that most funds for the FY were already allocated or obligated. In short, the only places it was even possible to make any cuts were in Operations and Maintenance (O&M) and Personnel funds. Some O&M funds simply had to be spent, merely to continue operations (like, say, Afghanistan) already underway. So the training budget for units not tagged to deploy were slashed.

And the passage of a Continuing Resolution, while providing somewhat reasonable levels of funding for the Army, is still disastrous in the long term. Why? Because the CR is just that, a continuation of previous funding authority. In effect, the Army cannot move funding levels from one account to another, and are locked into the spending priorities set well over three years ago.

I’m not the only one who sees things this way:

When I first joined the military the United States Army alone had some 780,000 troops in 18 divisions. It was near the end of the Cold War, the inter-German border still represented a very real potential combat zone and — if one was looking only at the numbers — this was probably about the high-point of the “peacetime” Army. We had the manpower we needed. The “Big Five” combat systems were coming into the field* and most of the detritus from the post-Vietnam period had been flushed from the system. Plus, in the past several years the Army had well and truly taken to the philosophy of honest and hard free-for-all training as a means of evening the gap by developing quality whereas our potential opponents had the quantity. This was best exemplified by the National Training Center (in the Mojave Desert of California) and the Combat Training Center at Hohenfels, Germany.

We trained hard and in all environments across the planet, and at any given moment we had at least a dozen “combat ready” divisions. (A division was, at that time, anywhere from 17-23,000 men.) And because good equipment and hard training costs money, it cost a lot of money. But in the wake of nearly perpetual poor performances of the US Army in the first battles of every war, our late-70s leadership decided “Never Again.” American units would train to the highest levels, with exacting but realistic standards, and we would do it so comprehensively that we would win, the first time, every time. In the process we would be saving innumerable lives, not only our own, but all sides because we would be able to fight so fast that the wars would be shorter. Only when a unit was fully trained would it be certified as “combat ready,” and that status would only last so long before it had to be trained again.

According to the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, as of yesterday, the entire US Army currently has only two combat brigades ready for combat.

Why? Well, we are not that much smaller than we were a few months or years ago. Though the drawdown has begun, it is only just starting and it should last four years. Oh, wait, that was the plan… until yesterday. Now we are cutting 80,000 in just two years. Perfect. (Hyperlinks in original)

You’ve probably seen where the Army Chief of Staff announced that only two Brigade Combat Teams are fully trained right now.

WASHINGTON, Oct 21 (Reuters) – Two years of budget cuts and fiscal uncertainty have forced the U.S. Army to greatly curtail spending on training, leaving it with only two combat brigades fully prepared to go to war, the Army’s top officer said on Monday.
“Right now, we have in the Army two brigades that are trained. That’s it. Two,” General Ray Odierno told a news conference at the annual conference of the Association of the U.S. Army.
Odierno’s comments came as he and Army Secretary John McHugh discussed the impact of the recent U.S. government shutdown as well as across-the-board budget cuts that forced the military to slash spending in March, nearly halfway through its fiscal year.
McHugh and Odierno both appealed to Congress to find a way to give the military more financial predictability so it can plan effectively. McHugh said that with the way the military is currently funded, budgets that are approved today are based on planning that occurred three years earlier.
“You can’t run the most important military on the face of the Earth locked into three-year-old budgets,” McHugh said.
The Army was hit particularly hard by the cuts in March, known as sequestration, because of higher-than-projected Afghanistan war costs and the need to make up those funds from its operations accounts, which include money for training.
“We had to stop training, basically, in the last six months of the year,” Odierno said.

That doesn’t mean all training has ceased, but virtually all training above the individual, squad and platoon level has been curtailed. It costs a lot of money to send a company of tanks to the field for a week or two. Fuel, food, spare parts, ammunition, batteries and all sorts of sundries add up quickly. Even more expensive is sending an entire Brigade Combat Team to the field. Few posts actually have sufficient real estate to conduct quality training for an entire BCT so there’s the added expense of shipping the BCT’s people and equipment to a training area large enough to handle that size unit. And since that’s money the Army doesn’t have, they just aren’t doing it.

But units that haven’t trained together for their wartime mission, as integrated units, will find it difficult, if not impossible, to successfully complete those wartime missions. As friend-of-the-blog Esli has often noted, so many troops have had multiple wartime deployments, but virtually no experience in maneuver warfare combined-arms operations at the company level, let alone at the BCT or division level.

If a crisis comes (and sooner or later, they always do), the Army will deploy troops as needed. And those troops will pay a price in blood to learn lessons they were supposed to pay for in sweat.

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7 Comments

Filed under ARMY TRAINING

7 responses to “How the sequester is crippling the Army

  1. Paul L. Quandt

    Yet again the troops will pay with their blood and lives for the incompetence of the politicians and the apathy of the American public.

    Paul

  2. TREMENDOUS post. My father told tales of drilling with broomsticks in 3.5 weeks of boot camp because we were so unprepared in 1942. He is looking down, I am sure, and shaking his head.

  3. butch

    Those making these decisions, and their children, will not pay the cost.

  4. NaCly Dog

    Tis ever thus in democracies.

    It used to be we had reserve capacity to overcome our foes, used after a year of spooling up production and training. The anomaly of a big military after WWII was an attempt to prevent the weak militaries existing prior to the Spanish-American War, WWI and WWII. National will, sound strategy and robust forces all helped.

    Now, not so much.

  5. Esli

    Budgetary cuts are a huge impact right now. Fuel, spare parts. Training opportunities. I am planning a BN exercise right now for NOV in which I will use essentially simulations and dismounted training only, but get the whole unit “into the fight” by operating within the BN’s areas. For example, the tanks will attack in a company level simulation (Close Combat Tactical Trainer), while the infantry conduct live dismounted patrolling, and the TOC operates from the motorpool. Manning cuts are big and being both expanded and expedited. The army will begin a round of separation boards next year to look at cutting the least qualified at all grades.