Analyst: 'We don't know' how much combat readiness has fallen

The readiness of American troops for combat could be “worse than most people think,” according to a top budget analyst. 

“The readiness situation is worse than most people think because we don’t know how bad it is,” said Todd Harrison, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said Thursday at an event. 

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Pentagon officials have warned that, if Congress does not reverse the budget cuts of $500 billion coming over the next decade under the Budget Control Act, readiness will degrade, and more troops will die. 

The budget cuts kicked in last year, after lawmakers failed to reach a deficit-cutting agreement. The Pentagon has cut training, maintenance, ship steaming and flying hours to meet the reductions.

The Pentagon’s assessment that the cuts would affect readiness has been met with deep public skepticism, compounded by confusion over what “military readiness” is. 

Harrison said there was no good way to gauge whether cutting those hours were actually affecting troops’ ability to fight, since the Pentagon does not measure money put toward training and performance during or after that training. 

Still, “not knowing creates a tremendous amount of uncertainty. We don’t have a good way of showing it or quantifying it,” he said. 

Congress is due to pass its 2015 defense policy and spending bills sometime this year, which will be subject to the budget caps of $50 billion per year through 2023. Congress raised the caps for 2014 and 2015, but the cuts are scheduled to start again in 2016. 

With the end of the 2015 fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, Harrison said it was likely Congress would pass a three-month continuing resolution to fund 2015 defense operations until Congress approves defense spending for next year, which would hold defense spending at 2014 levels in the interim. 

"I don’t think a [continuing resolution] at least for the first three months will be all that disruptive," he said. 

He predicted there would not be a government shutdown like last year, when the 2014 fiscal year began without a continuing resolution, or a new federal budget. 

"Neither political party wants a shutdown a month before the election," he said.

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