Flight International Comment from 24 September
For the second year running, the Pentagon is being forced to contend with the effects of the Congressional sequestration law, which cuts US defence outlays by 10% each year over a decade.
A reduction of this magnitude might be manageable under normal circumstances. However, the problem is compounded, firstly by the inflexibility of the law, which mandates uniform cuts across all spending, and second, by Congress failing to do its job and pass a federal budget each year.
For several years, lawmakers have failed to fulfil this duty. This pattern is likely to be repeated in the next financial year, which means that come 1 October, the government will either shut down or the country will be run on a continuing resolution that funds services at the previous year’s levels.
Neither scenario is palatable to defence leaders already coping with sequestration. They are being forced to make strategic choices without any clear idea of what they can spend.
The only clarity, in fact, is that budgets are being hacked. Tough decisions will follow. Acquisition programmes will be delayed. But the brunt of the cuts will fall on operations and maintenance across all service arms. The US Air Force is already talking about cancelling pilot training classes and eliminating entire fleets of aircraft, perhaps losing as many as 550 airframes.
Budget cuts may be inevitable, but at least with clarity and flexibility a disaster may be averted.