ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT —
The U.S. military has some fiscal constraints, but it is not a military in decline as some critics suggest, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
Speaking with reporters traveling with him to Afghanistan, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey discussed the fiscal year 2015 defense budget request that he and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel previewed at the Pentagon yesterday.
President Barack Obama will present his fiscal 2015 budget proposal to Congress on March 4. The budget covers the years 2015 to 2020. "I can say with great confidence that by 2020 ... we will still be the most powerful military in the world, with every advantage in every domain," Dempsey said.
The U.S. military has clear advantages in the quality of its personnel, the superiority of its equipment and the realism of training, the chairman said, and it will retain a series of partnerships and alliances that no other country can match. America also maintains diplomatic relationships that allow it to project power across the globe, and the U.S. military has "a training and education system that everyone is trying to replicate," he added.
But this does not mean the United States can let up, he said.
"It doesn't mean we won't be challenged in some domain differently and more seriously than we have in the past," Dempsey said. "If you think of the five domains -- air, land, sea, space and cyber -- I think our relative advantage in those domains could erode, but not to the point where I'm worried about being a military in decline."
The military must "grab some certainty out of the uncertainty" and adapt to the different threats and opportunities the world presents, the general said, noting that the Quadrennial Defense Review, which will be released shortly, will detail some of these adaptations that will make sure the United States does not allow its military advantages to erode and place the country at risk.
"That's a little abstract right now, but my point is we will still be the most powerful military in the world in 2020," he said. "The question is, how do we adapt ourselves and reorient ourselves to make sure that's true?"
The chairman said he is worried about the possibility of a hollow force at some level. This is especially true, he added, if sequestration -- which is still the law of the land -- kicks back in force in fiscal 2016. If sequestration triggers, he said, the speed necessary to make the required cuts almost guarantees a hollow force.
"You can't get rid of force structure quick enough, you can't close bases quick enough, you can't make dramatic changes to modernization programs," Dempsey said. "You tend to grab the money where you can find it -- in the near years -- and that's in readiness."
Readiness cuts mean that training is cut and the types of missions that forces would train to accomplish would be curtailed. A certain amount of this is left over now from last year's sequestration spending cuts, the chairman said.
"We can recover from that, but the sooner we can get this uncertainty behind us and account for this near-term readiness gap, the better off we will be," he added. "That's the trade-off. We're too big now to be able to put all the money where we need it to train and in the future. If we go all the way to sequestration -- we will be too small. We're trying to find that middle ground."
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneAFPS)