The news media have, by and large, stopped writing about sequestration and Congress has stopped agitating about it. So it stands to reason that it’s not that big of a deal, right? Surely the doomsayers who predicted grave consequences from willy-nilly cutting $1 trillion from the budget over the next decade–including more than $500 billion in defense cuts–have been proven wrong. Not quite. In fact, sequestration is already taking a serious toll on our military readiness–and the impact is only going to get worse over time.
In the Wall Street Journal, retired Air Force general David Deptula warns:
In the Air Force alone, more than 30 squadrons are now grounded, along with aircrews, and maintenance and training personnel. The U.S. military’s foremost air-combat training exercise—Red Flag—has been canceled for the rest of the year. The graduate schools for Air Force, Navy and Marine combat aviators have been canceled. Equipment testing and upgrades to F-22s, F-15s, F-16s and other aircraft have been delayed.
And it’s not just the Air Force that is feeling the hit. In the Washington Post, columnist David Ignatius writes:
The Army is sharply cutting training above the basic squad and platoon level. All but one of the Combat Training Center rotations scheduled for brigades this fiscal year have been canceled. Depot maintenance has been halted for the rest of the fiscal year, meaning that six divisions won’t have the necessary equipment readiness. The Army will cut 37,000 flying hours from its aviation training, creating a shortfall of 500 pilots by the end of the fiscal year….
The Navy reports that by the end of this fiscal year, two-thirds of its non-deployed ships and aviation squadrons won’t meet readiness targets. The Navy has also delayed planned fleet deployments, including the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman to the Persian Gulf and the frigate USS Thach to the South Atlantic. “In the near term, we will not be able to respond in the way the nation has expected and depended on us,” Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations, told Congress in February.
All of these developments are highly worrisome for anyone who thinks–as I do–that U.S. military strength is the greatest force for peace in the world. Because sequestration is a relatively recent development it would not be hard to reverse the slide in readiness–now. But as the months and years go by, the lack of training for our fighting men and women will become harder and harder to reverse. We are, on the current trajectory, headed for a reprise of the “hollow” military of the 1970s.
That period of military weakness was an invitation to Communist aggression from Afghanistan to Nicaragua. Communism is no longer a mortal danger to the United States, but Islamism is. We can only wait and worry to see how today’s looming weakness will invite aggression from our current enemies.
It is high time that the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior officers spoke out more vocally about the self-inflicted destruction the forces under their command are now experiencing. There have been a few warnings from the brass–for instance the statement quoted above from Admiral Greenert–but, on the whole, they have been all too silent in the face of looming disaster, presumably because they have been muzzled by a White House that is de facto committed to not repealing sequestration unless Republicans agree to massive tax hikes.
The admirals and generals have a legal and moral duty to speak the truth, and to warn us about the degradation of the combat forces they lead. They must make clear to lawmakers and the public that it is not too late to stop this disaster, but time is running out.