This past Friday Chief of Staff to the United States Army, General Raymond Odierno, was invited to speak at The Brookings Institution. His talk was titled The Army of the Future and it addressed concerns that the Army faces given current and future budget reductions. In the beginning he briefly described what the budgets look like and then went on to depict the realities that must be addressed.
General Odierno said, “The greatest threat to our national security is the fiscal uncertainty resulting from the lack of predictability in the budget cycle.”
Funding for fiscal year 2013 is an immediate problem, General Odierno noted. The government is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution that expires on March 27. Funding levels for the rest of FY2013 are still unclear and the budget sequester scheduled to go into effect on March 1 creates additional uncertainty.
The lack of long-term strategic thinking about defense budgets is an issue that ASP has emphasized.
As ASP CEO BGen. Stephen Cheney recently wrote,
“[Sequester] cuts the actual dollar amount spent, but it cuts blindly – the good, the bad and the ugly. And in doing so we could easily find ourselves in a situation where cutting spending now costs us much more in the future.
We need to reframe the debate and commit to keeping the long-term implications of the quick policy fixes today.
What is most troubling is how such moves are down without real consideration of America’s strategy. What we are really talking about is a long-term vision for America and the instruments it uses to advance its interests.”
General Odierno highlighted some of the practical consequences of indiscriminate budget cuts. Some of the areas that will be affected are facilities, training systems, and family support systems, General Odierno said. In addition he emphasized that 48% of the army’s budget goes to people and therefore there will be a drop in personnel and soldiers that the army can maintain.
General Odierno was asked if anything positive will come out of a smaller budget and he acknowledged that there are efficiencies that the army can make. However, his main concern is readiness. There is uncertainty in the world, when it comes to predicting what will happen in the future. “We just don’t know,” he said, “It’s our responsibility to be prepared …. And I’m concerned”. If the number of soldiers available goes down too fast the United States could lose advantage in deterrence and it must maintain enough capacity so that it can respond to any new challenges that arise. General Odierno hopes that he is able to control the drop in available troops so that he can ensure a balanced force no matter the size.
He took additional questions about veteran’s care, the importance of K-12 education, his ideas on national service and the military capabilities of U.S. allies. In conclusion he was asked to comment on the approaching 10th anniversary of American involvement in Iraq. He said that Iraq is no longer a destabilizing factor in the Middle East.
Link to full video.