WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Spending cuts have left the U.S. Navy and Marines ill-prepared to deal with a sudden conflict, and continuing reductions may mean ships and troops arrive late to the fight and without the training and arms they need, Navy officials said on Tuesday.
“Ultimately, this means more ships and aircraft out of action in battle, more sailors, Marines and merchant mariners killed, and less credibility, frankly, to deter adversaries and to assure allies in the future,” Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations, told a Senate hearing.
Greenert’s comments to the Senate Armed Services Committee came as the U.S. military presses lawmakers to back President Barack Obama’s request for a 2016 Pentagon base budget of $534 billion, which is about $35 billion more than allowed under federal spending limits.
A 2011 law passed by Congress required nearly $1 trillion in cuts to projected defense spending over a decade.
Pentagon officials have been sounding alarms about the cuts since the legislation went into force, but this year there have been broad expressions of concern that further reductions could cost lives and jeopardize U.S. response in a crisis.
General Joseph Dunford, the Marine commandant, said tight budgets had required his force to prioritize training and equipment for units that were deploying abroad.
As a result, about half of the Marine units in the United States “are suffering personnel, equipment and training shortfalls,” Dunford said.
“In a major conflict, these shortfalls will result in a delayed response and/or the unnecessary loss of American lives,” he said.
Dunford said if further cuts go into effect and require spending below the president’s budget request, the administration would need to develop a new national military strategy that would put less demand on the force.
Current strategy calls for a military capable of winning a major conflict in one theater while deterring an aggressor in another.
Greenert said budget cuts had forced the Navy to reduce operations, created maintenance backlogs and compelled the service to extend the length of deployments, increasing the stress on sailors and ships.
That has hurt the Navy’s ability to respond to unexpected crises.
“Some of our platforms, our people, and our systems will arrive late to the fight,” Greenert said. “They will arrive with insufficient ordnance. And they will be inadequately prepared to fight.”
Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn