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Pentagon's budget nightmare: How each branch would handle sequester cuts

With the threat of a mandatory, across-the-board series of cuts known as sequestration looming over the Pentagon, each of the services has begun its worst-case-scenario planning. That planning is made worse by questions over whether Congress will actually pass a federal budget in March or another stopgap continuing resolution, which severely limits the Pentagon's flexibility in spending.

For now, Pentagon officials must strike a tricky balance between making cuts too early, and acting too late, Undersecretary of Defense Ashton Carter told Defense News. But if the fiscal uncertainty continues, “I’m going to have to do things that are irreversible – that do irreversible harm.”

Here is where the cuts stand now:

1. Army

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor/File
Army depots like this one in Anniston, Ala., might have to reduce their work under the sequester.

Echoing the concerns of fellow senior military leaders, Gen. Raymond Odierno – the US Army’s top officer – called the current era of fiscal uncertainty “the greatest threat to our national security.” 

The force has already begun preparing for the looming threat of the sequester with “an immediate freeze on all civilian hires” for the time being, said General Odierno at an Army luncheon earlier last week. The force is also considering terminating temporary employees and furloughing civilian workers.

“We are going to be forced to prioritize,” he added. One of those priorities is the current fighting force in America’s decade-plus-long war. “All soldiers in Afghanistan or going to Afghanistan are properly prepared and ready.” Same, too, for the forces headed to South Korea, he added.

Beyond that, all bets are off. “The situation,” he said, “is serious.”

The force will “probably” begin canceling some of its combat training center rotations for soldiers. This could include everything from leadership-development courses to drills for infantry brigade combat teams.

The Army will also have to reduce work in the depots, which means that vehicles and equipment coming out of Afghanistan are not likely to be quickly rehabilitated after tough tours, Odierno added.

Installation operation costs will have to be cut by 30 percent, which directly affects one third of family-services programs as well.

These cuts will all mean “significant training and maintenance shortfalls” in the Army, Odierno said. “My guess is that we will very quickly go to extremely low levels of readiness in the next six months throughout the Army.”

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