The forgotten budget cuts
By Fred Metz
The federal government shutdown and the impasse over the continuing resolution have been headlines in the news lately, and many in the region have been directly affected. As Congress repeatedly fails to reach an agreement on even a temporary spending plan, the fear of budget unknowns continues to be a concern.
Although the process is not pretty, these issues eventually will be resolved, and the government will go back to business as usual.
Another budget issue, the sequester, has not been settled, however, and it’s causing great harm to a region that depends on the Department of Defense for 45 percent of its economy.
The Budget Control Act, the across-the-board cuts of more than $1 trillion over nine years known as the sequester, came about because of Congress’ inability to agree on a long-term plan for deficit reduction. Although devised as an improbable solution that would force Congress to find a better way to trim the deficit, it is now law.
The Defense Department’s portion of the mandated cuts is about $52 billion a year. The Pentagon took a $480 billion cut in 2012, so the total cut in defense over a decade is more than $1 trillion.
There has been a lot of talk about repealing the sequester, but it looks like these cuts will remain. Congress appears to have accepted the savings that the cuts provide, and there seems to be no unified support for repeal. Members of Congress may be willing to negotiate where the cuts are made, but the sequester is likely here to stay.
The effect, although not fully realized, will change the ability of the military to carry out the president’s defense strategic guidance.
A large part of the defense budget is off limits to the sequester: The Pentagon can’t cut pay or change the benefits or compensation, which is almost half of the budget.
The cuts must come from people as well as ship and aircraft modernization. More immediate cuts will come from operation and maintenance.
Already, the Army and Marines have cut their forces. The United States changed its strategy to be capable of fighting one war, not two. Emphasis moved to Asia Pacific, concentrating 60 percent of forces to the West and 40 percent to the East Coast.
Congress has been reluctant to cut programs and infrastructure, refusing to close bases, even though there’s no money to fly.
At recent hearings, the chiefs of the services were adamant and united in their testimony that the sequester will drastically hurt the military’s ability to perform its mission. Troops will be at risk. The pressure on readiness, procurement and maintenance funds will gradually squeeze the military’s capabilities.
The Air Force will have to cut 4 percent of its force. The Navy will need to reduce flight hours and defer major maintenance on ships and aircraft. The fleet could drop to 260 ships from 285, already far below the 306 required under currenty Navy strategy.
Hampton Roads is losing ships and aircraft. The Navy is relocating two squadrons to Lemoore, three destroyer divisions to Spain and three amphibious ships to Mayport (which should be reevaluated).
The extent of the region’s pain because of the pivot to Asia Pacific has not been identified, but the loss of sailors and families will hurt schools, housing and local businesses. Moving ships and deferring maintenance will hurt the local ship repair industry.
The sequester has already caused 4,000 jobs to be lost. More will follow. Deployments will be increased to eight to 10 months. We already know that construction of the carrier John F. Kennedy has been delayed a year. Flight times have been reduced. We could also see more cuts in forces, including the loss of a battle group, air wing and further delay in carrier construction.
Whatever happens, Hampton Roads’ military will not be like it was in the 1980s. More critical, though, is that the forces that remain will be less prepared. It will not be long before admirals and generals will have to acknowledge: “Our forces are not ready to do the mission.”
Fred Metz, a retired rear admiral, headed the Navy’s carrier and air-station program at the Pentagon before he retired in 1990. Metz, a Virginia Beach resident, writes a community blog, “Military affects all,” for HamptonRoads.com.Back to Top