Washington (CNN) -- Less money means less military, the nation's armed forces chiefs told Congress on Wednesday.
The heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines explained -- again -- to the House Armed Services Committee that their services will be unable to meet their strategic responsibilities if forced budget cuts in coming years take effect as planned.
The forced cuts, known in Washington-speak as sequestration, affect the military and other discretionary government spending except for entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
At Wednesday's hearing, the military chiefs all said sequestration cuts in coming years would leave their forces without the resources needed to fulfill the requirements of the Obama administration's strategic defense guidance for the military through 2020.
"These reductions will put at substantial risk our ability to conduct even one sustained major combat operation," Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told the panel, adding that it was "imperative that Congress not implement the tool of sequestration."
Calling himself a realist, Odierno said the end result would be an 18% cut in total Army forces over seven years.
"There are some who have suggested there will be no land wars in the future," Odierno said. "While I wish that were true, unfortunately there is little to convince me that we will not ask our soldiers to deploy again in the future."
Past reductions in military readiness showed that "the full burden of an unprepared and hollow force will fall directly on the shoulders of our men and women in uniform," he added.
"We have experienced this too many times in our nation's history to repeat this egregious error again," he said.
The hearing came amid another budget war in Congress, with threats of a government shutdown in less than two weeks without a compromise.
One issue in the budget debate is whether a new spending plan should contain the sequestration cuts forced by a 2011 budget deal. Both Democrats and Republicans say they don't want sequestration, but they cannot agree on a new spending plan.
Republicans insist on holding overall spending to the level that included the sequestration cuts, while Democrats generally want to provide some more funding while adjusting spending levels.
CNN's Virginia Nicolaidis contributed to this report.