Just What Is the Military Ready For? | The Sheathed Sword | FOREIGN POLICY

By Gordon Adams

I feel so much better now. I was growing worried about the readiness of our military forces under sequestration. After all, as Secretary Hagel told Congress last week, the Air Force has been standing down squadrons, the Navy is keeping ships in the dock, and the Army has stopped some training cycles.

Maybe this readiness worry was getting to people, and maybe action is needed to take care of it. Maybe Loren Thompson is right, as he wrote this week, that “if defense sequestration stays on track, U.S. forces could be defeated in future wars, and more warfighters than necessary might die. Maybe thousands.”

I have been writing for a year that DOD had more flexibility than other agencies to move its money around to survive the sequester — those “meat axe cuts” that were doing in our national security. While sequestration is not pretty, it is not “doomsday.”

DOD has all this flexibility because it has things other departments do not have — operational accounts (Operations and Maintenance) in which the money can be moved from one activity to another and a war spending account (Overseas Contingency Operations) that was 75 percent operations money and completely fungible with non-war operations accounts.

And, above all, DOD has the ability to reprogram funds. As long as the reprogramming stays in the general category for which it was appropriated by Congress, DOD doesn’t even have to ask congressional permission to move it around. And when it needs permission, it asks — more than $9 billion worth of ask when it sent up the reprogramming request late this spring.

All this flexibility could have been used to enhance, yes, readiness. So Congress — or rather the committee chairs and ranking members of the armed services committees and defense appropriations subcommittees — took a look, and liked what they saw, and approved the reprogramming request.

And, by golly, readiness is on the mend. Well, a certain kind of readiness, anyway: the readiness to market the military services to the American public. You see, those Air Force squadrons are still not flying. But, as the Washington Times reported, the PR fleet has started flying again — the Air Force Thunderbirds will be in the air, just in time for the remaining summer air shows.

It warms my heart to learn this. Parents and kids who love air shows will love it; even I love it. But what, pray tell, does flying the Thunderbirds have to do with the readiness crisis the services are screaming about? Does PR readiness really trump actual readiness? Somebody up there has not got his or her priorities straight, or, perhaps, the readiness crisis is overblown, short-term, and the military will survive.

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