CSA on Army budget: Fiscal year 2016 is breaking point

By David VergunSeptember 22, 2014

CSA on Army budget: Fiscal year 2016 is breaking point
Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno cautioned a Defense Writers Group in Washington, D.C., Sept. 19, 2014, should sequestration resume in fiscal year 2016, the Army would not have the ability to intervene in troubled spots around the world. T... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 19, 2014) -- Should sequestration resume in fiscal year 2016, "it will be very difficult for us to lead around the world. Fiscal year 2016 is a breaking point," said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, adding, "I'm not seeing peace breaking out around the world in [2016]."

Odierno delivered his remarks Friday, at a Defense Writers Group, at the Fairmont Hotel here, where he was guest speaker.

Everyone wants the U.S. to lead the way in resolving global conflicts and crises, he said, not necessarily supplying the preponderance of forces, but involvement to some extent. The nagging question is, "Do we want to do that or not?"

In fiscal year 2016, Odierno pointed out that the budget will go down $9 billion from what it is now. That would have a "significant degradation" on the force "because I cannot take people out fast enough."

The general explained that manpower, modernization and training need to be kept in balance even as the budget shrinks and it's currently out of balance with too many Soldiers and not enough dollars to properly train and equip them.

With a reduction of 20,000 a year, that's as far as he said he's willing to push it without seriously degrading operational concerns and personnel considerations.

Although the total Army budget is around $120 billion a year, the vast majority of that is mandatory spending that can't be touched -- obligated funds for equipment, personnel costs, things like that, he explained. About 46 percent of the budget alone is for personnel.

Sequestration takes "a large percentage of a small portion of the budget" that would have otherwise gone to training and equipping the force, he said. The slashed budget will delay aircraft purchases, platform upgrades, improved command and control systems and a host of other needed requirements for years to come.

The active Army is now 510,000, which is down from a high of 570,000. It will be 490,000 by the end of fiscal year 2015, 470,000 by fiscal year 2016, 415,000 by fiscal year 2017, and 420,000 by fiscal year 2019, he pointed out.

Before the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, and the Russian incursion into Ukraine, Odierno said he testified to lawmakers that a reduction to 450,000 would pose a "significant" security risk and 420,000 would mean the Army would be unable to "execute our current strategy."

Since that time, the risk has increased. The ability of the Army to deploy Soldiers to a number of hot spots around the world simultaneously "causes me grave concern," he said. "I'm in a box."

Over the last two days, the chief said he approved letters for the Army secretary to sign, replying to about 40 lawmakers, who were concerned that the Army will reduce the number of Soldiers on installations in their home states.

"I wrote back that 'the reason I'm taking Soldiers out of your installation and out of your state is because of sequestration. Not that I want to do it.' That's the dilemma we're in," he said.

"In my opinion, we've got to have a security debate in this country and decide what we want to do," he added. "Not a budget debate, a security debate about what capabilities and responsibilities we want from our Army."

Summing up the current state of affairs -- sequestration and degradation of readiness, even as unforeseen problems emerge in Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere -- the general remarked: "This is a lousy way to plan and do business."

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