Our military services are already reeling from the previously approved $800 billion in defense cuts over the next decade. Now they are faced with $500 billion in additional budget cuts if sequestration is implemented. As the secretary of defense has stated, such draconian budget cuts will be devastating to the military services and our national security. We will have our smallest Army since before World War II, and we most likely will be left with smallest Navy since before World War I. Similar adverse impact will be felt by the Air Force.
The argument that we don’t need as many forces today since they are so much more effective than previous ones just doesn’t cut it. The world has not shrunk. A ship can only be in one place at a time. We are being challenged globally.
Under the continuing resolution budget authority that the military is now operating under, the Navy will have to cancel availability for modernization or maintenance for more than 20 ships. It will also have to cancel aircraft maintenance at major facilities, defer the construction start of the next carrier, delay new research and development projects, and cancel the new construction of a DDG-51 anti-ballistic missile destroyer. Other deferrals involve a range of new projects, including aircraft procurement.
If sequestration is implemented, $50 billion will have to be taken out of the military budget by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. According to Daniel Goure of the Lexington Institute, this means “in effect a doubling of the impact of sequestration, effectively imposing an average 20 percent cut on every program.” For the Navy, this will require reduced flying hours on our deployed carriers to the Middle East by more than 50 percent and cutting ship operating days by almost 25 percent. Western Pacific deployments will have to be reduced by a third. Nondeployed Pacific Fleet ships will have their operating days reduced by 40 percent. Several ship deployments will have to be canceled. A host of other actions will be required, including extending the Truman and Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group deployments indefinitely. All of these actions affect our readiness, which will cost much more to restore. So much for the “pivot to Asia.”
As our leadership in Washington continues to ignore the consequences should sequestration budget cuts be implemented, they need to reflect on the impact to our national security. For example, in China, one of the first directives given by the new Communist Party Chief Xi Jinping to vice chairman of the Military Commission, Gen. Fan Changlong, was “to prepare for war.” While such statements are not new for incoming party chiefs, it cannot be casually dismissed in view of China’s massive military build-up over the last decade with no known threats. While China’s leadership continues to profess peace and stability, their illegitimate claims in the South and East China Seas send a more provocative message. Therefore, it is questionable that the directive “to prepare for war” can be put in the same context as President Reagan’s “peace through strength.”
Aside from China’s massive conventional force modernization program, China continues to modernize its strategic nuclear weapon infrastructure. It has more than 3,000 miles of underground reinforced tunnels. They have not only fixed but land mobile strategic systems for these underground sites. In addition, they have developed strategic ballistic missile submarines operating out of underground submarine pens on Hainan Island. China may well have significantly more strategic weapons than the 300 the intelligence community estimates. Compounding the problem, the modernization of our strategic nuclear infrastructure will most likely be in jeopardy.
Even though China’s leadership continues to profess that their military modernization programs are for defensive purposes only, where is the threat? Their anti-access, anti-denial doctrine and their anti-ship ballistic missile capability — all of which is targeted against U.S. naval forces — sends a different message. Their demonstrated anti-satellite capability, along with their cyberwarfare capability, must also be addressed. Further, their client state, North Korea, with a proven nuclear weapons capability and continued unpredictable behavior, is another factor that must be considered.
The Middle East continues in a state of turmoil. The outcome of the Arab Spring is in a state of flux. Libya appears to be a failed state, and eastern Libya is under the control of al Qaeda-affiliated militias. Egypt under the totalitarian control of its Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi is far from the democracy many hoped it would be. Syria is basically in a state of civil war.
All of the turmoil in the Middle East, however, pales in comparison to a nuclear Iran, which continues to ignore all United Nations sanctions and has shown no willingness to negotiate seriously over its nuclear weapons program. Further, we can no longer continue to ignore Iran’s missile sites in Venezuela which, according to former ambassador Roger Noriega, are now operational and have the capability to strike a number of our southern cities. Under the Monroe Doctrine, they must be removed now.
Sequestration sends all the wrong signals to our potential enemies by placing our national security in jeopardy. Now is the time for President Obama and Congress to show the necessary leadership and put national security above party politics.
Retired Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.