The automatic budget cuts of about $45 billion the Pentagon faces this fiscal year will fall on readiness of U.S. forces more than on major weapons programs, according to the top U.S. military official.
“Some of the stuff in these big procurement accounts are already locked in for this calendar year and you just can’t touch them,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters today en route to a change-of-command ceremony in Afghanistan. “That’s why readiness is going to be so dramatically affected this year.”
The automatic reductions in defense and domestic programs, known as sequestration, will take effect March 1 unless Congress and President Barack Obama reach agreement on an alternative plan to reduce federal deficits. Defense programs would be cut by about $45 billion in the seven months remaining in this fiscal year ending Sept. 30 and about $500 billion over a decade.
“We’re just going to have to sweep up every bit of money that is not otherwise locked down,” said Dempsey, who is scheduled to testify to Congress on the cuts next week. “Most of the money you can get at, on such a short timeline, happens to reside in the readiness accounts.”
Readiness includes training for U.S. forces and operations and maintenance funds for war-fighting equipment.
If sequestration stays in effect for a decade, Dempsey said, about one-third of the cuts would be achieved by reducing the size of U.S. forces.
“The other two-thirds will come out of modernization, compensation at some level and readiness,” and major weapons programs would also be affected, he said.
Dempsey traveled to Afghanistan to mark Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford taking command of U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces there. He replaces Marine Corps General John Allen, Obama’s nominee to serve as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and U.S. Forces in Europe.
Allen’s nomination awaits Senate action. It had been on hold until a probe by the Pentagon’s inspector general found no wrongdoing in his e-mail exchanges with a Florida woman.
In addition to sequestration, Dempsey said the Pentagon is absorbing $487 billion over 10 years in reductions from planned spending mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act as well as reduced funding in a stopgap spending measure that expires March 27 and may be renewed by Congress.