By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr, American Forces Press Service

Budget cuts imposed by sequestration will leave the Defense Department with a hollow force and debilitating shortfalls, the Pentagon’s top acquisitions chief said today.

At a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, outlined the difficultly that the on-going budget sequester is causing in the department’s ability to plan for the future.

“This is probably the worst time I’ve seen … in terms of our ability to do a sound plan and execute it with any kind of confidence at all,” he said. “It is one of the worst environments I’ve ever seen to try to manage in, in the Pentagon.”

Sequestration’s across-the-board cuts, mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, require DOD to make $500 billion in cuts over 10 years in addition to a previously planned $470 billion cut.

“It’s a deep cut,” Kendall said. “We took 10 percent out – we took $50 billion out a couple of years ago per year. Sequestration takes another $50 billion per year — that’s a large cut below the level we thought we needed to defend the country.”

“So there’s the steepness of the cut which forces some very difficult choices,” he said. “There’s a lack of a ramp … [where] you can gracefully make changes and not do them abruptly,” describing them as almost unmanageable and leading to a force that “you could call hollow.”

The acquisitions chief noted the department will not have enough training, acquisitions or investments.

“So one way or the other, over those next three years, until we can get force structure out, we’re going to have shortfalls that are going to be debilitating to the department,” Kendall said. “There’s no avoiding that … if sequestration stays in place.”

Kendall said the department essentially started “damage limitation” in fiscal year 2013.

“Sequestration was imposed in the spring and what everybody did was try to find a way to get by with eight percent less than they thought they were going to have,” he said. “That’s essentially what we did.”

The department “moved some money around within our reprogramming authorities that Congress gave us to help readiness primarily.We deferred work that we could delay to presumably FY-14. But that was assuming sequestration went away.”

Kendall said there is no money in fiscal year 2014 to do that deferred work, and in fact, if sequestration remains, over $50 billion will have to be taken out of fiscal year 2014.

“We’re operating at a rate which we hope is consistent with sequestration as much as possible so we don’t have the kind of problem we had last year,” he said.

Kendall noted DOD didn’t lower its operating rate earlier last year, which resulted in civilian furloughs, which “we have every hope and every intention of not having to repeat.”

“But that being the case, we’ve got to get the spending down now. We can’t wait until January … otherwise we’re just setting up a bill for ourselves, particularly in the readiness accounts further on.”

Of all the problems sequestration has caused, Kendall said he thinks the worst is the uncertainty the department is experiencing now.

“We don’t know what to plan for. So if we don’t know where we’re going to go, it’s very hard to figure out how we’re going to get there,” he said.