As the U.S. military draws down, defense and military leaders stress they must keep it from becoming a hollow force — a military that looks good on paper, but incapable of performing as expected.
Such hollowing typically unfolds over many years as funding steadily declines, poor personnel and program choices are made and vital training and maintenance are slashed.
But in a message to his uniformed and civilian subordinates, Adm. Jon Greenert, chief of naval operations, last week indicated that, should automatic funding cuts go into effect under sequestration, and the continuing resolution now funding government operations expire without a budget to replace it, the force will be hollowed in six months.
Starting in April, maintenance for 30 of Navy’s 187 surface warships and about 250 front-line aircraft could be deferred.
Ships could be stuck pierside as training funds dry up and Pacific and Middle East deployments cut back.
And — in the most attention-getting portion of his message — Greenert said training for deploying strike groups could be cut back, leaving the fleet without trained replacements.
The U.S. military is capable because it has good equipment that’s well maintained and manned by superbly trained people. But training atrophies quickly.
Critics will argue there are less debilitating ways to cut. But no matter how you slice it, cutting that much that quickly will be ugly.
Indeed, Pentagon leaders, for 18 months, have warned that cuts so abrupt, deep and broad will have devastating implications for U.S. military capabilities in a bid to convince lawmakers to compromise.
There is reason for optimism. House Republicans have agreed to raise the nation’s debt ceiling enough to give the Senate three months to approve a budget, something the Senate hasn’t managed to do in four years. But sequestration will kick in well before those budget talks conclude, and lawmakers must find a way to avoid that disaster, too.
America needs a deal that averts sequestration and gives the Pentagon budget guidance for 2014 and beyond, so leaders can plan, ensuring that the coming drawdown is coherent, responsible and results in a capable, ready and effective force.