NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Congress’ inability to offer a clear answer whether sequestration will again strike the defense budget in 2014 is making the Defense Department’s job even tougher when it comes to planning, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Wednesday.
“We find ourselves really with no idea how much money the Defense Department is going to have in 2014,” Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld said in a keynote address here at the Air Force Association’s annual Air & Space Conference.
The Defense Department stands to have $52 billion slashed from their budget next year unless Congress finds a way to reach an agreement that eliminates sequestration.
The Navy admiral told the Air Force crowd that the toxic atmosphere of sequestration, continuing resolutions and Congressional gridlock means “everything, except perhaps cyber, is going to get smaller.”
The challenge for Air Force leaders, and for leadership in all the services, will be to “find innovative ways to fund readiness at reduced costs,” Winnefeld said. “There will be some tough internal choices,” Winnefeld said. “Readiness seems to have no constituency in this environment.”
Leaders will have to be “willing to face new realities,” and one of the harshest realities would come in coping with a fiscal environment “in which the ways and means are shifting under our feet,” Winnefeld said.
“We need to get our old stuff out of the system so we can buy and maintain new stuff,” he said.
He renewed the call for closing unnecessary military bases, a move that Congress has repeatedly blocked. Winnefeld also said that the sequestration process underlined the reality that “we simply cannot maintain the growth in pay and benefits” that have come to be expected in recent years.
“It’s time for us to lean this business out,” meaning the services will have to establish priorities and stick to them to carry out missions with available resources, Winnefeld said.
The world won’t wait for the U.S. to get its ways and means of funding in order, Winnefeld warned. Emerging powers, such as China, were “working very hard to catch up” to the U.S. military, Winnefeld said.
“Where they can’t challenge us symmetrically they will do so asymmetrically,” he said.
Despite his warnings on funding, Winnefeld said the core mission of the Air Force in ruling the skies while providing strategic lift for ground forces would not be altered.
“If the Air Force were a stock, I’d be buying it,” he said.