WASHINGTON - Senior Army officials warned they may have to cut more than 100,000 additional soldiers over the next decade unless automatic spending reductions forcing the military services to slash their budgets are stopped.
Testifying before a Senate committee, Army Secretary John McHugh said the losses would undermine the service's ability to be prepared for wartime missions. "Today we find our Army at a dangerous crossroads," McHugh said.
The Army has already planned to trim its ranks from a wartime footing of 570,000 soldiers to 490,000 due to previously planned budget reductions approved by Congress in 2011, according to McHugh said.
But if the automatic cuts, known as sequestration, are extended into future years, tens of thousands more soldiers, including members of the Army National Guard and Reserve, will have to be let go due to a lack of money, he said.
Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army's chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee said the 100,000 is minimum number and the additional reductions could be even greater. "The cuts are simply too steep," he said.
Sequestration went into effect March 1. Overall, the Defense Department is required to cut nearly $42 billion by the end of September. If no action is taken to reverse sequestration, the cuts will continue into future years. The Army's share of the automatic cuts over the next six months is $7.6 billion.
In addition to sequestration, the military also has to absorb a $487 billion reduction in defense spending over the next 10 years mandated by the Budget Control Act passed in 2011.
Fewer soldiers won't translate into cost savings because the departing troops will have to be paid separation benefits, Odierno said.
"If we cut another 100,000 out, we put into question our ability to respond to large scale contingencies," Odierno said.
During an exchange with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Odierno said the Army is heading toward becoming "hollow," a term used to describe a force that looks good on paper but lacks adequately trained troops and modern equipment.