Military leaders: Lack of a new budget could ‘break the U.S. Air Force’

A panel of Department of Defense generals and admirals warned an audience of defense industry company representatives that the continuing budget resolution is problematic and if sequestration returns significant problems will follow.

Generals and Admirals discuss budget concerns at the Interservice Industry Training Simulation and Education Conference in Orlando, Fla, on Tuesday. Photo by James LaPorta/UPI
Generals and Admirals discuss budget concerns at the Interservice Industry Training Simulation and Education Conference in Orlando, Fla, on Tuesday. Photo by James LaPorta/UPI

On Tuesday, a panel of eight senior military officers from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, including the deputy defense secretary for force education and training, told defense industry leaders at the Interservice, Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in Orlando, Fla., that the return of sequestration could be catastrophic for the U.S. Air Force.

“We are in the red,” Maj. Gen. Scott F. Smith, director of training and readiness and deputy chief of staff for operations in the U.S. Air Force, said during the discussion while referring to capabilities and readiness.

While the funding issues don’t mean fighter squadrons can’t be sent out on missions, he said an aircraft that has been doing close air support missions may not be prepared for a suppression mission. “This doesn’t mean I can’t deploy a fighter squadron,” Smith said, but “it’s hard to proceed.”

Smith’s comments echo similar statements made earlier this month when the U.S. Air Force’s top two officials issued warnings to Congressional lawmakers that if budget sequestration returns, it would “break” a service already stretched thin with limited manpower and available resources.

Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein have called on Congress to fix the budget, with Wilson saying that a repeal of sequestration is “the most important” thing Congress can do to help the Department of Defense.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 was signed off on by both the House and Senate this month, and it awaits President Donald Trump’s signature. The bill provides $613.8 billion in base funding, including a $28.5 billion increase above the President’s proposed budget for essential readiness recovery.

While the current fiscal year’s defense budget is substantially higher than what former President Barack Obama proposed for the previous one, it’s still largely inadequate in addressing everything the Defense Department is tasked to do by the American people, officials have said.

The gap between military training and readiness and the current fiscal budget, they say, results in unmet readiness requirements, the inability to increase manpower or procure the latest resources, inadequate maintenance of vehicles and aircraft and deferred investments on new acquisitions and training programs.

Commander of Naval Air Systems Command Vice Adm. Paul Grosklags said Tuesday that “the continuing resolution is a problem,” as it negatively impacts training, readiness, personnel and the ability to procure new technology that potentially may better equip U.S. forces as they confront modern day challenges in a rapidly changing world.

The continuing resolution, which Congress passed in September as a stop-gap during budget negotiations, expires on Dec. 8. Under the current CR, the Defense Department received $593 billion — the same funds it received last year.

The Pentagon had requested $639 billion for 2018, with Republican lawmakers considering a DoD budget of $700 billion. However, a more robust Defense budget seems unlikely at this point with budget talks grinding to a halt on Tuesday after Trump signaled that he would personally hold Democratic leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the Democrats responsible if the government shuts down next month.

The rift between Trump and the Democrats stems from disagreements over military spending, as well as the administration’s plan to address crime and erect a wall along the southern border. Trump and congressional Republicans want to increase military spending caps while Democrats favor equal increases between the Pentagon and domestic agencies like the Department of Homeland Security or the Justice Department.

“We are very far apart because our views on crime and our views on immigration and the military — so many are different,” Trump said about Democrats. “We want our military funded and we want it funded now.”

By James LaPorta