Looming on the horizon, January 1, 2013 and the beginning of sequestration’s effects are approaching closer and closer. A consequence of the Budget Control Act of 2011, budget sequestration is a series of automatic cuts of $54.7 billion annually between 2013 and 2021 to both defense and non-defense spending. Although non-defense spending decreases on average by 6.5 percent every year, defense spending sees an average of a 9.2 percent decrease annually (see report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities). First, in 2013 across-the-board, percentage cuts in appropriations will result in 7.5 percent decreases in every non-exempt account. Then, every year between 2014 and 2021, automatic cuts will decrease the budget caps for each account and the Appropriations Committee will then have the flexibility to determine spending within those limits. Noting that these measures are in addition to previous recent defense spending cuts, experts are unified in the conclusion that sequestration is crippling to not only the U.S. military’s readiness capabilities and credibility as a deterrent, but also to the U.S. economy. Furthermore, in the context of Europe’s similarly deep cuts to defense in response to the Euro Crisis, transatlantic security cooperation and collective security will falter. Thus, austerity’s effects pose serious questions as to whether defense should be the target of cuts and if there are viable alternatives.
Many experts are concerned by these cuts’ effects on the U.S. military’s ability to defend national security. At a recent policy event at the Brookings Institution, Senator Kelly Ayotte stressed the fact that sequestration represents an additional round of cuts above the previous measures since the financial crisis hit. Citing total reductions of 172,000 soldiers (including 50,000 National Guardsmen or Reservists) and 38,000 Marines after recent cuts and sequestration, Senator Ayotte shared General James F. Amos’ grave assurance that “Sequestration would render the Marines incapable of conducting a single major contingency operation.” Indeed, due to exemptions, the cuts will primarily be taken from training, operations, maintenance, and modernization. However, with events, such as the USS Essex collision due to rudder malfunction and a breakdown in the chain of command, becoming more frequent in the news, it is clear that the Armed Services are already experiencing the adverse effects on readiness from a dearth of training and maintenance funding.
Modernization is also already vulnerable; as noted by Mackenzie Eaglen at the American Enterprise Institute, all branches of the military have been forced to make the most of existing equipment. Take for example the 1980s and 1990s era F/A-18C Hornet, which will now be flown an additional 4,000 hours due to delays of its replacement, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The result, however, is more cases of malfunction; this same platform nearly killed two pilots on separate occasions as their engines caught fire and exploded on the USS Carl Vinson and USS John C. Stennis. In this sense sequestration would be a further danger not only to U.S. national security, but also the safety of servicemen and women.