The U.S. Army due to budget cuts is considering scaling back, delaying or even canceling major modernization programs, from the Ground Combat Vehicle to the Armed Aerial Scout helicopter to the battlefield communications network, officials said.
A few hundred acquisition programs, from the biggest to the smallest, have already been negatively affected by the automatic, across-the-board reductions, known as sequestration, as well as the recent government shutdown and the stop-gap funding measure known as a continuing resolution, according to Army Secretary John McHugh.
"I find it difficult to envision any significant number of our developmental initiatives that won't be affected," he said during a press conference at the first day of the annual Association of the United States Army conference. "Ground Combat Vehicle -- name your favorite acquisition developmental program, it'll probably be affected."
His comments were echoed by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno. The Army needs to invest in numerous weapons systems, including the Humvee replacement known as the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, or JLTV, the Bradley replacement known the Ground Combat Vehicle, helicopters such as the AH-64 Apache, UH-60 Black Hawk and the CH-47 Chinook, as well as the battlefield network, said Odierno, who spoke alongside McHugh at the briefing.
"We need all of that," he said. "We can't afford all of that."
The Defense Department faces about $500 billion in automatic cuts through 2021. That's in addition to almost $500 billion in reductions already included in 2011 deficit-reduction legislation. The first installment totaled about $37 billion and began March 1 after lawmakers were unable to reach an alternative agreement on taxes and spending. The second installment totals about $52 billion and is set to take effect Jan. 1.
"Functioning like this is just dysfunctional," Odierno said.
The leaders criticized the lack of flexibility under the across-the-board reductions. They also railed against the lack of a full-year defense budget. The current continuing resolution funds the government at levels similar to last year, preventing the military from undertaking new or even prioritizing programs.
With that flexibility, "it's just dollars but dollars in the wrong places," McHugh said.
Heidi Shyu, the service's top weapons buyer, said the cuts have sliced some $10 billion from her portfolio over the past couple of years. Her office is working to reduce equipment inventories in tandem with decreases in the overall force structure.
The Army already plans to shrink from more than a half a million active-duty soldiers today to about 490,000 around 2017. That figure, however, may drop to 380,000 if sequestration remains in effect, Pentagon officials have said.
"We're not going to buy as much stuff because we don't need [it]," Shyu, the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, said during a separate briefing with reporters.
Programs at risk of being delayed or canceled include the Ground Combat Vehicle, or GCV, which is designed to replace a portion of the fleet of Bradley fighting vehicles, and the Armed Aerial Scout, which is designed to replace the OH-58 Kiowa helicopter, Shyu said.
In the current fiscal environment, "creating new programs is very difficult," she said. "We have to go in belt-tightening mode."
At the same time, the Army is trying to protect its investments in science and technology and research and development because "that's where your significant modernization breakthroughs come through," Shyu said.