Artillerymen of Battery B, 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division conduct a fire mission at Normandy Drop Zone on April 9. (Army)
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Items of equipment in the war zone to be reset. Budget cuts will mean some work will be delayed, with possibly “years to recover,” officials say.
Items of equipment that were to be reset at facilities in the U.S.
Army leaders are warning Congress that sequestration budget cuts are putting readiness at risk and endangering unit training, equipment refurbishment and the role of the reserve component in the operational force.
The Army must be prepared for anything, but the cuts would have damaging effects as the force draws down after a decade at war, representatives of the Army, Army National Guard and Reserve testified April 16 before the House Armed Services readiness panel.
“Up front, the Army is facing severe fiscal challenges that have serious implication for our ability to provide trained and ready forces for the nation,” said Lt. Gen. James L. Huggins Jr., the Army's deputy chief of staff for operations. He said sequestration and shortfalls in overseas contingency operating funds have “grave” impacts for readiness this year and beyond.
Budget cuts in 2013 have been pushed into the following year, compounding the problems.
Calling for a “legislative solution,” Huggins said that sequestration cuts, as proposed, would hurt the Army's ability to meet the Defense Department's strategic guidance.
To meet sequester targets, the Army plans to curtail training for ground forces, which would in turn create shortfalls in aviation, intelligence and engineering — roughly 2,300 soldiers in their Initial Entry Training.
The Army is considering canceling all but two “decisive action” brigade-level training events at Army maneuver centers.
Training for nondeploying units has been reduced above squad level. For deploying units, training and readiness standards have been tailored for their specific missions — to “meet their combat requirements,” Huggins said.
“We have given guidance to limit that readiness because we can't afford to buy more readiness, other than at the squad level in about 80 percent of our formations,” Huggins said.
The service's plans to reduce training for nondeployed brigades, defer maintenance on equipment and furlough 251,000 civilians, “collectively puts us on a track that creates some problems,” said Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., the subcommittee chairman, acknowledging the Army's challenges.
Wittman asked the military leaders about a “decay of readiness” for nondeploying units and the Army's training deficiencies. In response, Huggins said forces would maintain training at brigade level and below.
Reserve and Guard
The Reserve's training focus has been on company-level and battalion-level battle staff proficiency, and some brigade-level training rotations have been canceled for the Guard, according to witnesses.
Leaders from the Reserve and National Guard said the investments made in the operationalized reserve component over more than a decade of warfare would be squandered by budget cuts and damage the reserve component's ability to respond to emergencies at home and abroad.
Maj. Gen. Luis R. Visot, the Army Reserve's deputy commander for operations, touted the utility and cost-effectiveness of the Reserve, saying it makes up 20 percent of the Army but 6 percent of its budget. The Reserve has more than 12,000 soldiers mobilized and deployed, with 5,000 soldiers in Afghanistan.
“The Army Reserve is a positive investment for our nation, and to give away what we have earned is not something we can afford to do,” Visot said.
Brig. Gen. Walter E. Fountain, acting deputy director of the Army National Guard, called the Guard a “low-cost, high-impact option.”
He said that more than 517,000 soldiers have been mobilized since Sept. 11, 2001, and that they have responded to natural disasters at home.
However, field and depot maintenance are being deferred, some training has been canceled and maintenance technicians are in danger of being furloughed, all of which undermine readiness and the Guard's role in the future, Fountain said.
“Now is not the time to put the Army National Guard back on the shelf and allow us to return to the strategic reserve,” Fountain said.
A tough mission that would be more challenging with budget cuts will be bringing home equipment from Afghanistan and refurbishing it for troops to use in the future, said Lt. Gen. Raymond V. Mason, the Army's deputy chief of staff for logistics. The effort, “orders of magnitude” harder than similar operations in Iraq, is “still a slow and fragile process,” he said.
At current funding, the Army has maintained operations at 90 percent readiness and at 75 percent or better for the aviation fleet.
More than 100,000 items were expected to be reset at industrial facilities back home and 60,000 items in the war zone, so that they can available to soldiers again. But sequestration will hinder those plans, Mason said.
“Deferring maintenance will cause gaps in the industrial base and cause breaks in the supply chain requiring years to recover,” Mason said.