Secretary of the Army John McHugh gives the keynote address during the opening ceremony for the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 21. (Mike Morones/Staff)
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Army Secretary John McHugh did not paint a rosy picture as he described the way ahead.
“I wish I could promise that better days lie ahead,” he said. “Sadly, I just can’t.”
McHugh’s pointed comments opened the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual convention today.
The secretary took direct shots at Congress’s inability to pass budgets over recent years. The last one happened three years before the iPad was released, he said. The military has instead been funded by stop-gap measures such as continuing resolutions designed to keep government functioning, “or disfunctioning as it were.”
“We have robbed Peter to pay Paul, then Paul got furloughed,” McHugh said, adding that this is no way to manage greatest military in world, and “sure as hell” no way to run a country.
And the future looks to contain more of the same.
“In this unreasonably constrained fiscal environment, even the wise path will be treacherous.”
McHugh said defense leaders knew cuts were coming, but thought they would have the opportunity to do it right.
“We were wrong,” he said.
Sequestration happened — something that then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta felt was so bad that he thought no one in right mind would let it happen, “but apparently the right minds were out of town,” McHugh said.
The service in fiscal 2013 had a $5.5 billion shortfall due to sequestration. Belt tightening prevented the planned purchase of double-V hulled Strykers and Apaches, and also cut unit training, flying hours and family programs.
The 2014 National Defense Authorization Act will provide $16 billion for Army procurement. That bill awaits Senate approval and the president’s signature. The amount represents a $1 billion cut from 2013, which saw a $1.7 billion procurement drop from the previous year.
The service also had $1.7 billion of a planned $4 billion worth of reset cut in fiscal 2013. The cut meant repairs that would bring 800 vehicles, 2,000 weapons, 10,000 pieces of communication gear and 32 helicopters to near zero hours/zero miles were pushed into fiscal 2014.
If budget cuts and sequestration continue, which defense leaders and analysts say is a very likely scenario, the service will be required to require a rebalance the force by decreasing end-strength to as low as 420,000 in the active Army, 315,000 in the Army National Guard and 185,000 in the Reserves by fiscal 2023. This will result in a 45 percent reduction in active Army brigade combat teams and organic equipment such as tanks, Bradleys, trucks, machineguns, mortars and artillery systems.
These fiscal realities have extracted a great cost in readiness, manpower and morale, McHugh said. Not only for uniformed soldiers, but also Army civilians who have had no pay changes in three years but lost 20 percent of their pay for six weeks over the summer.
“We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude for their loyalty,” McHugh said.