Continued resolution could degrade training for future matches

The US military plans to keep force readiness as a top priority even if Congress fails to pass a defense spending bill next week. But service leaders fear cuts and cancellations would have to be made to training seen as vital to preparing for high-level joint and allied operations against adversaries.

A full-year continuing resolution that would maintain fiscal 2023 spending levels for the rest of 2024 means the U.S. military, for example, would run out of operations and maintenance funding in the European theater as it trains Ukrainian soldiers to defend against Russia’s continued invasion of the countrywhich entered the third year.

The financial pressure is compounded by the lack of certainty about whether Congress will approve a supplemental funding package that would reimburse the military for the costs incurred so far to bankroll the Ukraine.

The Army already spent $500 million in the European theater on operations and sustainment, and “we were counting on a supplemental one to be able to make up for that,” Army Secretary Christine Warmuth said at a Feb. 27 Defense Writers Group event. “That means probably by late spring, summer, we’re going to have to make some tough choices for others [NATO] exercises, for example, in which our forces participate.”

In addition, the military has funded support to Israel to include deploying units to the Middle East should they be needed, he added.

Undersecretary of the Army Gabe Camarillo told reporters Feb. 28 at the Pentagon that the agency spent $100 million in the U.S. Central Command area of ​​operations as well as another $500 million to support the U.S. southwest border security mission.

“I worry. Our budget has been stable for the past two years. We don’t have a lot of cash under the couch cushions, and if we don’t get a budget and we don’t get a supplement, we’re probably going to have to cancel some things,” Wormuth said.

The military is prioritizing current operations, Camarillo said, which means it “will have to look at other areas of O&M spending where they can potentially take some risk,” including “exercises and how involved we are in certain spheres . We may have to reduce some of that in the absence of credit this year.”

For the Air Force, Kristyn Jones, who is serving as the agency’s undersecretary, told reporters with Camarillo that in order to pay her personnel, training exercises would take a hit.

“Anything that is already in a [Foreign Military Sales] The case will not have a dramatic impact, but all the replenishment we expect in the supplemental is currently affected. And even things like the F-35 [fighter jet] training that we’re planning … with our allies and partners, that’s affected by not having that credit as well.”

The Air Force is focused on trying to ensure flight hours are maintained, but it’s also important, Jones noted, that pilots receive training.

Despite the military’s experience in war, “we are in a different strategic environment and we have to do the exercises, often joint and allied, to prepare for that environment. And our lack of ability to do that doesn’t allow us, again, to test the new techniques, the new military tactics that we would like to have primarily for an Indo-Pacific struggle,” Jones said. “That’s where we really need to flex our muscles a little bit more.”

Learning from engagement

With an extended or ongoing full-year solution possible, service undersecretaries said the last time the military felt such a painful budget crunch was during the 2013 sequester, when the agencies were required by law to make percentage cuts evenly in expense lines.

One of the consequences of the 2013 commitment was an increase in air accidents because vital training flight hours were reduced. Military Times and Defense News took a deep dive into plane crashes from FY11 to FY18 and revealed the trend.

“Safety will always come first,” said Under Secretary of the Navy Eric Raven, “but we looked at the lessons of 2013 and the engagement, where we spread the risk across the enterprise, and I think the concerns about maintaining a ready and trained force it’s part of the lessons we use to inform if we get into that worst-case scenario where we haven’t enacted the ’24 budget and we’re under CR.

“We’re not going to repeat the same peanut butter spread,” he added.

But trade-offs will be inevitable, he conceded, and “we’ll have to look across the board to see how to maintain focus on current operations.”

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist who covers land warfare for Defense News. He has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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