By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Oct. 12, 2011) -- Looming budget cuts across the Department of Defense mean the Army must be prepared to conduct business with less funding, and the service's senior officer said this may also mean doing less.
"In the past during periods of austerity, we've said we'll have to do more with less," Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno. "As we move ahead under significant budget restrictions, we'll have to do less with less. We'll have to accept higher levels of risk than we have in the past. Determining where it's best to do so is the primary task before us."
Odierno addressed attendees at the Eisenhower Lunch, Oct. 11, at the 2011 Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C.
A major concern for the general is the potential of a trillion dollars being cut from the Department of Defense budget over the next 10 years -- something that could happen if the "super committee" tasked to trim $1.2 trillion from America's federal budget fails to come to a consensus.
If they fail, it's estimated that $500-600 billion could be automatically cut from defense, in addition to the $450 billion the department is already tasked to cut. The Army would bear a significant portion of those cuts.
"A cut of this magnitude would be devastating, this would threaten every aspect of the joint force, and especially the Army -- it's force structure, modernization efforts and ability to sustain an all-volunteer force, as well as our defense industrial base," Odierno said.
The general said cuts must come carefully to avoid risking the readiness of the Army.
"All of us have to realize and understand that we will get smaller, that is fiscal reality," Odierno said. "But it's the how that is critical. If we go too fast, we risk the current future readiness of the force and lose the flexibility to react to the uncertain security environment we find ourselves in. We also threaten the trust that is the foundation of everything we do."
From talking to Soldiers and veterans, Odierno said he's learned that a primary concern about looming budget cuts involves compensation and entitlement programs.
"Everybody needs to know decisions have not yet been made," he said. "The president recently announced a committee to study military compensation. Department of Defense will provide input. Rest assured, we are dedicated to a system that cares for Soldiers and families now and well into the future."
Odierno said he has been involved in discussions on how to address the "fundamental tension" between the fiscal situation and an "increasingly complicated and unpredictable world."
While he said the Army should and will be part of any solutions to the financial situation, the nation must be told the truth about the risks involved in using the Army budget to help solve the fiscal crisis.
Terrorism, failed states, man-made disasters, weapons of mass destruction, drug trafficking and cyber threats are now part of "a strategic environment that is increasingly complex and unpredictable," he said. Those issues are compounded by scarcity of and competition for energy, food and water.
The general said he remains committed to a "successful resolution" in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and that after that, the Army will be free to pursue other areas of concern, such as continued stability in Asia.
He said there is consensus that future economic and security interests are great in Asia, including developing a "peaceful and constructive" relationship in China.
"We cannot ignore China's military modernization, but it need not lead us to confrontation," he said.
He said how America interacts with China's neighbors, for instance, is a key part of ensuring a good relationship with that country. He said he looks forward to the Army contributing to stability in the Pacific region. There, he said, the United States has developed a wealth of partnership and diplomatic options that can be used.
Odierno also laid out some priorities for the Army. Included in those priorities are winning the current fight, which means continuing to provide trained and ready forces to ongoing contingency operations such as in Iraq and Afghanistan; developing a more versatile "mix of capabilities" to enable the Army to be a more flexible provider to the joint force; continuing the commitment to "the Army profession"; and continuing to adapt leader development programs. The general also said preserving the all-volunteer force is a priority.