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After months on back burner, sequester fears return

Aug. 20, 2014 - 05:25PM   |  
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Holding Pattern: US Army Gen. Charles Jacoby, commander of US Northern Command, said it's 'virtually impossible' to make strategic decisions due to budget uncertainty. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP/Getty Images)
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HUNTSVILLE, ALA. — For the past three years, US military officials have frequently voiced opposition to defense budget caps that went into effect in 2013.

But for the past eight months, US defense officials have spoken less about sequestration and more about immediate plans for this year and next. After all, Congress agreed on a budget plan for 2014 and 2015 that boosted Defense Department spending by more than $30 billion above the levels mandated under the Budget Control Act.

But now as crunch time begins inside the Pentagon as the services’ craft their 2016 budget plans, sequestration fears have returned. And at the annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium here last week, numerous officials used speeches to warn of the looming defense budget caps.

“[20]16 scares the heck out of me,” Air Force Lt. Gen. John Hyten, then-vice commander of Air Force Space Command, told a small group of reporters after an Aug. 12 speech. Hyten pinned on his fourth star and became the head of Space Command on Aug. 15.

“Our [operations and maintenance funding] is very different in our command. It’s bad on the aviation side, but they can ground squadrons. We can’t.”

The problem, the general said, is that the entire military relies on satellites. The command’s GPS satellites are used by the military, commercial industry and civilians globally.

Many cuts offered up by the command when sequestration hit in 2013 were rejected because of the negative operational impact, Hyten said.

“Everything we put forth is critical to some military mission,” he said.

Army Gen. Charles Jacoby, head of US Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, said during an Aug. 13 speech that it is “virtually impossible right now to make a strategic decision” due to funding unpredictability.

“When you go to the Hill … old friends are not friendly on this subject and old enemies are still enemies,” he said. “It’s really a different world approaching Congress about the budget.”

While the military has been raising concerns about sequestration for years, Jacoby said others need to speak up.

“What we really need is other voices to join that because the voices in uniform are not carrying the day in [congressional] committees that they used to carry the day,” he said.

The general said Pentagon programs “won’t survive if sequestration returns.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, voiced his sequestration concerns, too.

“We’ve been looking at the numbers and wrestling with these numbers for some time. The thing that worries me the most ... is the defense budget,” he said Aug. 13. “There are a lot of places that we can save money. We are already saving a lot of money in the Defense Department. But meeting our national security challenges does require money. It requires a significant investment and a substance, money, that we have too little of.”

Sessions said he is looking for places to save money and invest in defense. The senator said he will meet with Defense Department officials in the coming weeks about the issue.

“I’ll be spending more time in Washington in August than I ever have,” he said. Both the House and Senate are in recess throughout the month.

Giving DoD more time to prepare for the spending cuts might soften the blow, Sessions said, noting high global security threats could advise against defense spending cuts.

“It simply may be that the Defense Department cannot, under the current global environment we find ourselves in, meet these targets and we’re going to have to have more money,” he said. “That is a very distinct possibility.” ■

Email: mweisgerber@defensenews.com.

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