5 Ways the Sequester Hurts the U.S. Military

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Only a few months into the era of sequestration, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel sent a letter to Congress in early July 2013, warning the budget cuts pose a real danger to the country’s military effectiveness: “In some future conflict, less capable weapons could mean a less desirable military outcome and more casualties.” Sequestration mandates cutting between 8.5 and 10 percent of the DoD’s roughly $525 billion base annual budget each year through 2021. As predicted by pundits and politicians on both sides of the political aisle, these mandatory, across-the-board budget cuts disproportionately affect the Department of Defense. Hagel and many others point out these cuts will hurt the U.S. military in many ways other than the procurement of new weapons systems, as noted below.


5. Cuts Hamper the Military’s Public Relations and Outreach Efforts

The U.S. military benefits in many ways from participating in air shows and other public events.

The U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels perform before a crowd in San Francisco during Fleet Week in 2010; Andrew Storms

Parades, air shows and other special events offer the U.S. military a chance to show the public who they are and what they do with all those billions of taxpayer dollars spent every year; in short they are good opportunities for outreach. Sequestration is changing all this because the cuts mean even relatively small-scale spending on events such as flyovers at parades or ballgames are being canceled. The U.S. military’s two elite flying teams, the Air Force’s Thunderbirds and the Navy’s Blue Angels, canceled their 2013 schedules because of sequester cuts. According to the International Council of Air Shows, dozens of annual shows featuring military aircraft have already been canceled in 2013. In a similar vein, the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Week, a popular annual event in several port cities, has either been canceled for this year, most notably in New York, or the Navy has greatly cut its participation in other locales. Military officials say these shows benefit more than just public relations. They’re also popular with service personnel, boosting morale, and they offer unique recruiting opportunities.


4. Sequester Cuts Make Recruiting More Difficult

The military could have trouble attracting qualified recruits because of budget cuts.

Drill instructors work with new recruits in Arizona in 2013. Budget cuts could hurt military recruiting efforts.

Even as the Pentagon moves to reduce troop levels to save money, it still must recruit the best people it can find. With fewer recruiters, reduced hours at recruiting centers, and less money for recruiting events and promotional materials, the services worry about attracting less-qualified candidates. This could become a problem in an era in which an increasingly high-tech military needs well-educated recruits. In better times, tuition assistance proved a popular benefit for qualified members, but all the services except the Navy have already suspended new enrollment for tuition programs. Most people do not join the military purely for financial reasons, but the military must be able to compete with private companies that offer much higher salaries.


3. Budget Reductions Hurt Training, Military Readiness

Troop training has been severely impacted by sequestration.

Budget cuts prompted the Air Force to ground one-third of its combat-ready aircraft, such as its A-10, in 2013.

Gen. George Patton once said, “A pint of sweat will save you a gallon of blood.” He meant that rigorous and consistent training is vital for the military in peacetime. Pilots and their ground crews need regular training to stay sharp, but the Air Force grounded a third of its active-duty combat aircraft for three months this year because of budget cuts. The Army has also cut back on training, canceling most field exercises at its combat training centers. In addition, Army depots, responsible for repairing and refurbishing equipment, have limited their work, putting them behind schedule. Training cuts are also hurting the Navy. Naval officials told a Congressional committee in April 2013 that almost all nondeployed ships and aviation squadrons are currently not certified for major combat operations. Since 9/11, the National Guard and Reserve forces have been deployed regularly to provide a substantial percentage of the manpower in Iraq and Afghanistan. These units are also deployed in the U.S. to provide assistance after natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, but cuts threaten their ability to respond as effectively to future events.


2. New Weapons and Communications Systems are Delayed or Canceled

Budget cuts have delayed several new weapons systems for the Pentagon.

The Army and Marine Corps’ new Joint Light Tactical Vehicles have been delayed because of sequester cuts.

Sequestration isn’t the first time new multibillion-dollar weapons systems have been delayed or canceled by budget issues. But sequester cuts are made across the board, proportionately affecting each budget line item. That gives military officials little leeway in shifting funds to make much-needed weapons procurements. So as a result, the Army and Marine Corps have delayed acquisition of their new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, needed to replace an aging fleet of Humvees. The Air Force may see a cutback in research and development for more advanced UAVs and its future bomber program, as well as delays in purchasing a new refueling tanker model and the F-35A stealth aircraft, a replacement for the venerable but aging F-16. Secure communications on the battlefield are more important than ever, but the Army is reducing funding for its new tactical radio system.


1. Budget Cuts Hurt Social Programs, Morale

The military's TRICARE system has raised fees and reduced benefits for soldiers and their families.

Budget cuts have affected health care and other social programs for soldiers and their families.

Although the Department of Veterans Affairs is exempt from sequester cuts, current military personnel and their families are still being affected. The Pentagon’s health care system, TRICARE, is subject to the cuts, which means higher fees and less services for soldiers and their families. Wounded warrior programs could also be indirectly affected by budget cuts. Although technically exempt from sequester cuts, these programs rely on civilians for support, and those civilians face furloughs. Similarly, community support services and schools for military children will be impacted by furloughs. The Pentagon is working to keep its most important uniformed personnel on duty, but in order to satisfy the budget cuts, thousands of civilian DoD employees face furloughs of various lengths.

For more information on how the sequester cuts are affecting the U.S. military, visit Defense.gov.

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Written by

Mike Phelps earned a B.A. in history from the University of Connecticut and an M.A. in military history from Norwich University. He published a book about the War on Terror called A Short History of the Long War.