Joint Chiefs warn budget issues could create ‘hollow force’

The Joint Chiefs of Staff warned congressional leaders that a multitude of budget problems the federal government is facing could create a “hollow force” unless Congress takes action.

In a letter to Armed Services Committee leaders obtained by The Hill, the seven members of the Joint Chiefs said that the combination of across-the-board cuts through sequestration and the prospect of a continuing resolution through the end of the year could cut 20 percent from the Joint Forces compared to the president’s budget.

“The readiness of our Armed Forces is at a tipping point,” the military leaders said. “We are on the brink of creating a hollow force due to an unprecedented convergence of budget conditions and legislation that could require the Department to retain more forces than requested while underfunding that force’s readiness.”

In the letter sent Monday, which is marked “For Official Use Only,” the Joint Chiefs lay out the issues that could arise if sequestration and the 2013 budget aren’t addressed.


“Should this looming readiness crisis be left unaddressed, we will have to ground aircraft, return ships to port, and stop driving combat vehicles in training,” the generals and admirals wrote. “We will also be unable to reset and restore the force’s full-spectrum combat capability after over a decade of hard fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The letter from the nation’s top military leaders comes as the Pentagon took steps last week to blunt the impact of sequestration ahead of March 2, the date the cuts are now scheduled to take effect.

The Pentagon could be cut roughly $45 billion in the last seven months of fiscal 2013. The cuts would not affect personnel, leading to deeper cuts in other accounts.

Defense hawks and industry groups have urged Congress to avert the across-the-board cuts, after they were only given a 2-month reprieve in the “fiscal cliff” deal reached at the end of the year.

Defense advocates welcomed the voices of the top U.S. military leaders into the budget debate.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said that he hoped the letter would serve as a “wake-up call” to the public and lawmakers.

“This is the first red flag on what could be a hazardous road for our national security," McKeon said. “I only wish the service chiefs' warning had come sooner. For well over a year we have seen this perfect storm brewing.”

Marion Blakey, CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, which has led the industry campaign to do away with sequestration, said the group agreed with the military leaders that “the stakes are too high for our elected leaders to play political games with our armed forces.”