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Budget Woes Eroding Army Readiness: Officials

The U.S. Army is grappling with an unexpected funding shortfall that's "significantly" hurting its ability to prepare for war, the service's top civilian and top officer said.

Automatic budget cuts and increased costs for the war in Afghanistan have created a potential funding shortfall of more than $15 billion for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, Army Secretary John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said in a joint statement. That includes $7.6 billion in spending reductions, mostly operation and maintenance, and as much as $7.8 billion in war funding.

"The sharp decline over a short period of time significantly impacts readiness which will cascade into the next fiscal year and beyond," the leaders said today in prepared remarks to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The service has already canceled initial entry training for more than 2,300 intelligence soldiers in response to the automatic cuts, known as sequestration. It may have to also cancel field artillery classes and brigade-level rotations at Maneuver Combat Training Centers.

"With sequestration, the Army will not be able to fully train our soldiers, whether through professional military education or collective unit training," according to the remarks. "The long-term readiness impacts of the resulting deficit in trained forces will jeopardize the Army’s ability to meet war plan requirements."

The Defense Department faces $500 billion in automatic cuts over the next decade. That's in addition to almost $500 billion in defense reductions already included in 2011 deficit-reduction legislation. The first installment of automatic cuts began March 1 and sliced about $41 billion from the fiscal 2013 defense budget.

The Pentagon earlier this month unveiled a base budget of $527 billion for fiscal 2014, beginning Oct. 1. The figure doesn't include the next round of cuts, which may total $51 billion and reduce spending to $476 billion, excluding war funding.

The federal budget assumes Congress and the White House will reach an alternative agreement to reduce the deficit, though Republicans and Democrats remain at an impasse over taxes and revenue.

The ground service stands to lose at least $2.27 billion under next year's proposed budget. The reduction is part of a larger military strategy to shift emphasis away from the ground wars of the past decade and toward threats in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Army’s base budget, which excludes funding for the war in Afghanistan, would total $130 billion. That’s the least of the three major services and 1.7 percent less than what the Army is expected to receive this year.

The service has started to downsize. It plans to reduce its active-duty, Guard and Reserve components by a total of 90,000 soldiers to 1.05 million soldiers by fiscal 2017, McHugh and Odierno said. Including civilians, the figure totals 106,000 personnel, they said. That may double to about 200,000 personnel if automatic cuts remain in effect, they said.

Odierno during testimony said the U.S. should keep between 8,000 and 9,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014. That's more than what Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis recommended to the Senate panel last month. Mattis, who has stepped down as commander of U.S. Central Command, said 13,600 troops should stay in the country.

The ongoing fiscal uncertainty "poses considerable risk to our ability to maintain a ready force," according to the statement from McHugh and Odierno. "Each continuing resolution prevents new starts for needed programs, limits reprogramming actions, creates inefficiency and often results in wasteful funding for accounts that we no longer want or need."

The Army's investment priorities include network and cybersecurity programs, as well as the Ground Combat Vehicle, which will replace a portion of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle fleet, and the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, which will replace a portion of the Humvee fleet, the officials said.

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