During General Ham’s appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) earlier this week, he delivered prepared testimony and responded to questions posed to him by members of the committee. (You can find the archived webcast of hearing here.) Most of the questions concerned AFRICOM’s posture for crisis response operations, which I covered in an earlier blog post, and the projected impact of sequestration on AFRICOM’s missions. Here’s a few points I found interesting:
At several points of the hearing, there were discussions centered around the need for the Department of Defense (DoD) to determine how, in an era of budget cuts, the military should be postured to respond to crises on the continent.
- When asked how AFRICOM could increase response time while maintaining a relatively small footprint, General Ham responded that we (I’m unclear if he was referring to the United States in general or AFRICOM in particular) are much better at prevention than response. He further stated that prevention is much cheaper, but necessitates a better understanding of the operating environment – hence the preoccupation with increasing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.
- Earlier in the hearing, General Ham had been asked about reductions in flight hours that have already resulted from sequestration, and have impacted the Command’s ISR capabilities. In his response, he mentioned that most operations are funded by the services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Special Operations) through their components of AFRICOM. Two of these components, U.S. Air Forces, Africa (USAFAF) and U.S. Naval Forces, Africa (USNAVAF), have had to constrain their flight operations due to service component funding challenges. General Ham further explained that he’d asked the USAFAF commander to maintain the component’s transport aircraft in a heightened alert posture so that they could move crisis response forces more readily. This, however, requires that the component sustain flight crews on a heightened alert posture, which cuts into normal training and sustainment flights. As a result, the component was having trouble funding both requirements. Similarly, the Navy has had to decrease the frequency of some of its operational reconnaissance flights – again because of the inability to fund its normal flight operations.
General Ham was asked if he was seeing the financial impact of budget cuts on AFRICOM’s U.S. government partners, given that some of AFRICOM’s roles are shared by the State Department, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), etc. He replied that he has seen an impact on the non-Department of Defense (DoD) assets upon which they depend, and implied that if sequestration continued for the balance of the year, that there would be very real consequences on what the State Department would be able to deliver.
When asked about the impact of sequestration on AFRICOM’s ability to train African militaries, General Ham replied that budget cuts may cause some exercises and training to fall by the wayside. A potential upside, however, was that this may lead AFRICOM to seek out opportunities for multinational building partner capacity engagements, since most training has been bilateral. (Here, I’m assuming he was talking about greater collaboration with European allies in Africa.) He also said that with sequestration, DoD may need to revisit last January’s Defense Strategic Guidance.
Finally, a member of the SASC asked if sequestration would precipitate a shift in AFRICOM’s strategy, General Ham replied that he didn’t believe such a shift would give primacy to the use of U.S. forces in military interventions. He explained that although it may be faster to use U.S. military forces, the use of such forces would be counterintuitive because it would ultimately increase the long-term the demands on the U.S. military. The current building partner capacity approach, on the other hand, allows the United States to rely on other nations, thus reducing the demand for U.S. forces.
There were some other interesting parts of the hearing that did not directly relate to crisis response operations or sequestration, but I’ll sum those up in another post later this week.