Keeping the military as combat ready as possible, during this period of budget chaos, will require an accelerated force drawdown starting in 2014, the Defense Department’s chief financial officer said.
That will mean more tumult for personnel because a steeper drawdown likely will require some involuntary separations of military careerists and reductions-in-force orders, RIFs, for civilian employees, warned Robert F. Hale, under secretary of defense and comptroller, during an interview in his Pentagon office.
“We will try to minimize them,” Hale said of any force-out actions the services will take. “So much depends on factors we don’t entirely control.”
For example, an improving economy that enhances private sector job opportunities could entice more military and defense civilian employees to leave voluntarily, reducing the need for forced separations or RIFs.
“But there could definitely be some (force-outs) on the military side and reductions in force on the civilian side. Not big across-the-board ones,” Hale added. “They’ll be focused.”
Still, he added, “It’s always hard on the individuals who have served well, in almost all cases, and suddenly find themselves being told (to) look for something else. That’s tough.”
Hale couldn’t quantify the size of an accelerated drawdown in 2014. It will depend in part on whether Congress, by January, provides some relief from a second year of automatic funding cuts required under the sequestration formula of the 2011 Budget Control Act.
Military leaders two months ago delivered to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the Congress a Strategic Choices Management Review, showing options for the services if forced to accept a decade of sequestration. Deeper force cuts would be critical to restoring readiness.
From a wartime peak of 570,000 active-duty soldiers, Army strength is sliding toward 490,000 under the five-year drawdown plan announced in January 2012. The new review shows the Army could still carry out its priority missions with 420,000 to 450,000 soldiers, and that full sequestration could require deeper cuts, to as low as 380,000.
Marine Corps active strength is falling from a peak of 202,000, toward 182,000 by 2016. But to preserve unit readiness through sequestration, Gen. James Amos, Marine Corps commandant, announced last month a new active duty strength target of 174,000.
Hale said the Navy and Air Force likely will see more force cuts too.
It is fair to describe defense budgets as chaotic, he agreed.
Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at: