By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Oct. 10, 2011) -- The potential of DOD facing additional budget cuts of $500-600 billion over the next 10 years keeps him "up at night," said Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh.
The Department of Defense is already looking at budget cuts meant to save the federal government $450 billion over 10 years. In addition, lawmakers who are part of the "super committee" are looking to find an additional $1.2 trillion in savings over the same period. If they fail to do so, as much as half of that amount could automatically be taken from the DOD through "sequestration," McHugh said.
"I think we're in a positive position to accommodate at least the $450 billion or so in cuts that have been scheduled against the DOD to this point," McHugh told a panel of journalists during the opening hours of the 2011 Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C.
"Additional cuts coming out of that process, particularly the potential of sequestration, and the $500-$600 billion or so of additional cuts that would likely (be brought) against the Defense Department, I would think it is fair to say [would be] catastrophic," McHugh said, "certainly to the Army and certainly to our national defense posture."
Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno said that the potential of a "hollow force" would not come to fruition, however. Instead, he said, a ready and capable force would exist -- though size might be affected.
"No matter what happens, we are not going to have a hollow force," Odierno said. "We are going to have a force that is a certain size, that has the modernization and readiness necessary to be quality."
The general said that, despite the quality of such a force, and it's readiness to deploy and fight, it would be questionable what could be done with it.
Both McHugh and Odierno agreed that cuts to the DOD would likely be shared equally across the three military departments -- the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. The Marine Corps falls under the department of the Navy.
Earlier, at the opening ceremony of the 2011 AUSA event, McHugh addressed a room of more than 3,000 guests -- including Soldiers, civilian employees and defense contractors.
During his opening remarks there, the secretary pointed out that while all services contribute to the fight, it is the Army that carries the brunt of the mission in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
"There's no getting around the fact that it is the Army that has been saddled with much of the burden these past years, providing between 50 to 70 percent of our deployable forces," McHugh said, addressing an audience that was likely half Soldiers. "While I am loathed to view our men and women in uniform as mere budgetary statistics, I think it is important to remind people that while the U.S. Army represents half of our nation's entire force, we consume only a quarter to 30 percent of the entire defense budget."
The secretary said that decision makers often fail to correctly predict the nature of future conflicts and that following conflicts like World War I, World War II, and Korea, for instance, budget decisions were made based on the notion that ground forces were no longer relevant -- those decisions ended up depleting Army forces and reducing quality of life for Soldiers and their families.
This time, he said, the Army has seen the economic downturn in advance as well as the impending budget cuts.
"Unlike in the past, this time we have seen this downturn coming for some time," he said. "We have been analyzing the best ways to meet these challenges, and as such I can tell you we are better positioned than at any time in our nation's history to deal with the fiscal realities and do it in a way that truly makes sense."
Part of dealing with fiscal realities, he said, is cuts to end strength -- the total number of men and women in uniform. The end strength will eventually "look different" than it does now, he said. And with the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said he thinks the Army can handle the challenge of end-strength reductions.
But he was cautious to hope that cuts don't come too quick or too clumsy.
"But what is critically important, is that no matter what the force ultimately looks like, we have sufficient time to ramp down to ensure we do it in a balanced way and that we have what is necessary for training and equipment and reset," McHugh said.
Another concern for McHugh, he said, are suggestions that "some of the services recover at the sacrifices of others. That the United States probably doesn't need a strong and decisive standing Army the future to them looks more like 'Transformers' than 'Saving Private Ryan.' History looms before us once again."
McHugh said air power and technology are critical, but that America's enemies don't often fight the way Americans predicts they will. Boots on the ground, he said, are critical for the nation's defense.
"No major conflict has ever been won without boots on the ground," he said. "And accordingly, our national interests demand that while we set about the task of reshaping this Army for the years ahead, we remain steadfast and continue to support this, the greatest land force the world has ever known."
Efforts to help the Army find ways to save money, to be able to absorb looming budget cuts, are already underway, McHugh said.
The service is removing redundancies and overlap in research, for instance. Additionally, McHugh has asked that that Army look into the multiple and expensive temporary task forces that have become "permanent." Also underway are efforts to streamline the requirements process, reforms to the Installation Management Command and "sweeping changes" to human capital management.
McHugh said changes will be made to find cost savings within the Army Service Acquisition program, where $243 billion was spent in 2010 -- including $140 billion on contracts, where more than half was spent on services.
A McHugh-issued directive will create a new government structure that will consolidate about 45 percent of service obligations into six portfolio management centers, he said. Those include facility support services, medical services, transportation services, electronics and communications, equipment related services, and knowledge-based services.
"This will, I believe, improve oversight effectiveness, while helping us tailor and apply and monitor the results of better buying practices for improved acquisition, as well as leveraging portfolio demand for better prices," he said.
Those types of actions, he said, will help the Army deal with the budgets that will be made for the service by others. He told Soldiers he will help guide the Army to make it through the budget crisis, and will keep them in mind when doing so.
"We can, we must -- and I promise you -- we will do better," he said.