- The Washington Times - Friday, December 8, 2017

Massive training operations like the one designed to deter North Korea may fall victim to the looming budget axe if congressional lawmakers cannot reach a deal to avoid a full federal government shutdown, Pentagon officials warned Thursday.

Even as lawmakers on Capitol Hill negotiated a two-week reprieve Thursday night to draft spending legislation to keep the government running, military strategists and Pentagon number crunchers are readying contingency plans should the Defense Department and other federal agencies be forced to cease or curtail operations.

“The challenge is there’s no way to make a shutdown easier. It’s not designed to be easy, it’s designed to be destructive,” said Defense Department Comptroller David Norquist. “People come home, people don’t get paid. Those types of things don’t happen [during a shutdown] and there’s not an exception to those,” he told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday before the deal was announced.

Aside from the suspension of military pay for U.S. service members and Defense Department civilian staff, cancellation of much-needed maintenance on key weapon systems and curtailment or cancellation of critical joint training operations with American allies is also on the table should a long-term deal not be reached by the Dec. 22 deadline.

Some training operations may remain unaffected by a shutdown if they support combat operations,Mr. Norquist said.

“Those are generally accepted, but some of the other activities are not,” he added.

Delay or cancellation of military drills like the massive U.S.-South Korean aerial wargame Vigilant Ace — one of the largest military drills in recent history intended as a massive show of force against the North Korean regime — could also shake American allies’ faith in Washington’s ability to follow through on its defense commitments.

“Remember we’re also asking our partners to invest in defense,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White Thursday. She declined to comment specifically on the potential impact of a shutdown on specific exercises such as Vigilant Ace.

“If we don’t know what our budgets are going to be from year to year then it makes it very hard for us to tell our partners and allies how we can exercise with them if we are delaying things and if we don’t have the predictability,” of a defense spending plan, Ms. White added.

At the White House, Defense Secretary James Mattis made a rare appearance with congressional leaders during a meeting with Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to discuss a path forward on the defense budget and avoiding a government shutdown.

“The No. 1 priority for our country is to make certain we protect this Constitution and our way of life, and we’ve got great bipartisan support. I’m confident we’ll walk out of this with it,” Mr. Mattis told reporters at the White House Thursday.

Aside from the foreign policy fallout, the hit to critical training operations could exacerbate concerns that lack of training has contributed to a spate of fatal accidents among the services.

A pair of mid-sea collisions involving two different U.S. warships in the Pacific earlier this year, resulting in the deaths of 17 sailors, were in part the result in officers and crew members lacking basic seamanship skills, the Navy concluded last month.

Ms. White refused to acknowledge that budget difficulties affecting military training and readiness led to any of the recent mishaps involving U.S. forces.

“We need a fully-funded budget, a robust budget. But I’m not willing to correlate any of that to any of the recent accidents that have happened,” she said.

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