Military leaders paint grim picture as defense budget cuts loom

The nation’s military leaders yesterday painted a bleak and sometimes cataclysmic picture of what will happen if planned, across-the-board cuts to Defense programs go into effect March 1.

Defense leaders told a House panel that if the first installment of some $500 billion in cuts to defense over the next decade goes through next month, hundreds of thousands of civilian employees — including 13,000 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base — will face up to 22 days of furlough. Air Force flight hours will be dialed back. Navy ships in need of maintenance will have to do without. Defense contractors — including many in the Dayton region — may see business plummet.

“These cuts will be felt across the entire country,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno.

In 2011, President Barack Obama and Congress agreed to cut $1.2 trillion from the budget over the next decade in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, with half being absorbed by Defense programs. If the cuts go through, Defense programs will see $46 billion in cuts over the next seven months alone.

The cuts, said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “will upend our defense strategy, will put our nation at greater risk of coercion and will require us to break our commitment to our men and women in uniform and their families, to the defense industrial base and to our friends and allies.

The testimony was the second that the group of defense leaders have offered; they were at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

But while senators were largely supportive, the group got more of a challenge from House members, including some who said defense leaders held out details of the impact of the cuts for too long.

Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, pointed out that the House has passed three bills aimed at avoiding the budget cuts to Defense. “We passed three plans that not a dollar would be asked of DoD,” he said, urging the military leaders to prod Obama to urge a vote on those plans.

“We would appreciate if the president would ask the Senate to take a vote on our three proposals,” he said.

ExploreYou can watch Turner’s questioning of military leaders here.

In Ohio, the cuts will be felt hardest at Wright-Patterson, the state’s largest single-site employer.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III said the Air Force will have to absorb $12.4 billion in budget cuts over the next seven months that will affect “every account, every program.” Up to 180,000 civilian airmen will see 22 days of furlough, he said, resulting in a loss of 31.5 million lost hours of productivity.

The Air Force will also see 200,000 fewer flying hours, meaning that airmen who aren’t flying in Afghanistan and war zones will see their training drop below acceptable readiness levels by mid-May and be incapable of flying missions by mid-July. Add to that a halt of maintenance of Air Force equipment, which will result in a backlog that the Air Force will wrestle with for the future.

Welsh said the Air Force had already been forced to cut back on full spectrum training and “we are trying to recover that.” The lack of readiness, he said, will show.

“When the next major conflict starts we will send our joint force to fight regardless of how ready they are,” he said. “And they will go and they will fight and they will die in greater numbers than they have to.

“We owe them better than that.”