Last week, the Joint Chiefs of Staff made their fifth appearance as a group before Congress during this budget cycle to again sound the alarm about the effects of the Budget Control Act and sequestration on military readiness. As they have tried doing repeatedly, the four service chiefs highlighted the costs to carrier battle group availability, combat-ready air wings, and pre-deployment training for soldiers and Marines. Three of the chiefs explicitly warned that reduced readiness would result in additional casualties if the military were deployed to fight in an emergency contingency tomorrow. As Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno stated bluntly: "We're at the lowest readiness levels in our Army since I have been serving for 37 years."
If you recall the contentious Army readiness debates in the late-1990s-with the carefully scrutinized "C" ratings and mission-capable rates, this is a remarkable statement. Unfortunately, for the chiefs, their sensible requests for budgetary certainty will likely go unanswered as fiscal conservatives have clearly and perhaps permanently gained the upper hand over traditional defense hawks.
The constrained defense budgets, ending of the Iraq war, and forthcoming troop withdrawal from Afghanistan has led to soul searching among senior defense leaders about what missions and capabilities the U.S. military should pursue. The Pentagon has tried to do this in a structured way with the Defense Strategic Guidance of January 2012, the Strategic Choices and Management Review of August 2013, and the Quadrennial Defense Review process currently underway.