WASHINGTON — Lawmakers and the top US military officers on Wednesday warned of dire consequences if the Defense Department is hit by additional automatic cuts.
The chiefs of America's armed forces warned that more across-the-board cuts could require them to craft a new national defense strategy while possibly losing their ability to conduct two major operations simultaneously.
Senior Senate Armed Services Committee members bemoaned more sequester cuts, but none offered a plan nor spoke of a new effort to get rid of them.
"Despite an accumulating array of complex threats to our national interests ... we are on track to cut $1 trillion from America's defense budget by 2021," SASC Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said. "If we in Congress do not act, sequestration will return in full in fiscal year 2016, setting our military on a far more dangerous course."
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said his force is as unready as at any other point in its 239-year history.
Odierno said if sequestration hits again, he will remove tens of thousands more soldiers, and end, restructure or otherwise change "all" of its acquisition programs, resulting in a "40 percent modernization decrease."
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert warned a new round of sequester cuts would require a re-examination of the national defense strategy. He also suggested the existing plan for the Ohio-class submarine program could be at risk if more automatic cuts occur.
"And that would be a budget-driven strategy," said Greenert, using a term McCain and other congressional hawks often rail against.
The CNO also said more across-the-board cuts to non-exempt accounts would put at risk some missions with which his sailors currently are tasked.
"We [would] go from high risk to we cannot execute those missions," Greenert said.
He also said the Navy would "fall behind" in the areas of electromagnetic and undersea realms of war.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told the panel "we're now the smallest Air Force we've ever been."
He also warned the service's fleet is older than it has ever been, and 12 fleets would qualify for antique license plates in the state of Virginia — if they were automobiles, that is.
Welsh said if sequester kicks in again, the Air Force would be unable to defeat one foe while holding off another and "defending the homeland."
In a twist, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford called his force "the best trained and equipped" ever. But he did say the Marines are investing in new hardware at "historically low levels."
He said another round of sequestration would leave the Corps unable to meet the requirements of the country's current defense strategy.
SASC Ranking Member Sen. Jack Reed, R.I., said he knows the service chiefs "will manage" with whatever funding and cuts they are dealt. But he is concerned the military could slide into a slow state of decline until a crisis hits.
All of these dire predictions came a day after Defense News broke the news that the Obama administration will seek $585 billion for the Defense Department in its 2016 budget request. That will include a $534 billion base budget request, which would be the largest such request ever.