Capitol Hill: If the Super Committee fails to make the budget cuts required by law — something almost everyone here now believes is likely — that will be really, really bad for the U.S. military. And it will probably open the door for a burgeoning China to fill the void of what might well become a receding superpower.
That was the gist of a rare hearing today at which all four of the Joint Chiefs appeared before the House Armed Services today.
The head of the largest service, and the Joint Chief with the most combat service, Gen. Ray Odierno, said the sequestration cuts “would be catastrophic for the military” and could endanger the all-volunteer force sequestration cuts. No one said the “draft” word but nothing worries an old Army man more than a return to the draft, especially in a time of austerity.
The newish Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Jonathan Greenert said his service — already suffering from lowered readiness rates — said sequestration cuts “could have a severe and irreversible impact on the Navy’s future. For instance, we may need to end procurement programs and begin laying off civilian personnel in fiscal year 2012 to ensure we are within control levels for January of 2012.”
And the cuts could limit the shipbuilding business and hurt the Navy. If we end programs abruptly and some of these companies shutdown, will be hard pressed to reconstitute them. And each ship we don’t build impacts the fleet for 20-50 years,” Greenert said.
Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos put the case for maintaining U.S. forward deployed forces as forcefully as a Marine might be expected to. He pointed to a Chinese hospital ship currently sailing in “our hemisphere” as an example of the kind of challenges the US might be expected to see should budget cuts reduce our ability to patrol the world’s oceans and send Marines into harm’s way at speed.
“We won’t be there to reassure our potential friends, or to assure our allies. And we certainly won’t be there to contain small crises before they become major conflagrations,” Amos said.
The assumptions underlying today’s hearing seemed to be that the Super Committee will fail, that the defense cuts will not automatically begin and that the military budget will be cut more than the $450 billion to $500 billion already planned. Grim news, but not disastrous.