* Problem not budget levels but method of imposing cuts
* Reductions hit training for soldiers, pilot flight hours
* 'We're tapped out,' Admiral Greenert tells Senate panel
By David Alexander
WASHINGTON, Nov 7 The top U.S. military officers
said on Thursday that across-the-board cuts in defense spending
have seriously eroded American forces' preparedness for war, and
another round of reductions in the coming months will wreak even
To quickly achieve the abrupt cuts that went into force in
March, U.S. military chiefs slashed big-unit training for
soldiers, curbed flying time for pilots and canceled regularly
scheduled maintenance for ships. A similar round of reductions
in January would lead to more of the same.
"This is the lowest readiness level I've seen within our
army since I've been serving for the last 37 years," General Ray
Odierno, the Army chief of staff, told a Senate hearing. "I
believe our challenge is much greater today than it has been
since I've been in the Army."
Odierno has said only two of the Army's brigade combat teams
in the United States have received the full training they would
need to go to war. Even those in Afghanistan have undergone
training just to advise and assist local forces, rather than
training for combined forces combat they might face elsewhere,
The readiness drop comes as the military is grappling with a
huge cutback in defense spending following a decade of growth
due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the Iraq war over
and the Afghanistan conflict winding down, the Pentagon has been
told to pare its spending plans by $487 billion over a decade.
Congress and the White House, struggling to curb the massive
U.S. deficit, also directed the Pentagon to slash an additional
$500 billion in spending over a decade unless lawmakers could
agree on alternative budget cuts and revenue increases.
No deal was reached, and the across-the-board reductions
went into effect in March for the first time.
Lawrence Korb, a defense analyst at the Center for American
Progress, said the issue was not Pentagon base funding levels -
about $500 billion in the fiscal year that started on Oct. 1 -
but the inflexible mechanism "that requires them to cut all
items in the budget, other than military personnel, by an equal
The military chiefs, testifying before the Senate Armed
Services Committee, appealed for more flexibility to deal with
the reductions, saying they could cope with the $1.3 billion in
cuts if they had additional time.
"Sequestration reduces our capability and capacity over
time, but it doesn't break us," said General Mark Welsh, the Air
Force chief of staff. "The mechanism is what breaks us."
Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations,
told lawmakers the Navy tried to keep two aircraft carrier
strike groups deployed overseas and a third one in the United
States fully trained and ready to respond to emergencies.
The cuts make that increasingly difficult to do. The Navy
has a carrier strike group in the Gulf and another in the
western Pacific. The carrier intended for emergency responses
has been in the eastern Mediterranean as a result of concerns
about Syria's chemical weapons use.
"Consequently, because of fiscal limitations and the
situation we're in, we don't have another strike group trained
and ready to respond on short notice in case of a contingency,"
Greenert told lawmakers. "We're tapped out."
Further across-the-board cuts will force the Navy to halt
the planned purchase of a Virginia-class submarine, a littoral
combat ship and forward staging base ship, he said. The Navy
also would have to stop plans to buy 11 tactical aircraft.
General Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, said
further cuts in 2014 would force the Air Force to curb flying
hours to the point where within three or four months, many units
"won't be able to maintain full mission readiness."