Service association chiefs call on president, Congress to grow and properly fund U.S. military
By: Gen. Carter F. Ham, Gen. Larry O. Spencer and Skip Witunski, March 21, 2017
Editor's note: T he following is a guest commentary by* Gen. Carter F. Ham, USA Retired, President and CEO of the Association of the U.S. Army, General Larry O. Spencer, USAF Retired, President of the Air Force Association, and Skip Witunski the National President of the Navy League of the United States.
America’s military has been under constant strain for nearly two decades. Fifteen years of combat have taken their toll on every branch of the military, and the situation has been made more difficult by constrained budgets, aging equipment, and shrinking troop strength. We call for an honest assessment of U.S. military’s needs in an increasingly unsecure world.
After the war drawdown, when our soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen should have been resetting and rebuilding their forces for the next contingency, they were blindsided by fiscal crises that include the dangerously low budget caps of the 2011 Budget Control Act, the 2013 government shutdown and employee furlough, eight consecutive years of continuing resolutions, and constant turmoil for sporadic funding. Drip by drip, each crisis strained the Pentagon; cumulatively, they have threatened the readiness, capability, and technological advantages that make our military the best in the world. The national security community has been concerned about this dangerous trend for quite some time, and as we face the possibility of another continuing resolution for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2017 and a return to sequestration in Fiscal Year 2018, we must act. We urge the new Administration to fulfill its promise of rebuilding the military.
As the 2016 Navy Force Structure Assessment observes, “our potential adversaries [are] developing capabilities that undermine our traditional military strengths and erode our technological advantage.” In addition to threats from transnational groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda, the U.S. faces an increasingly complex global system as both Russia and China attempt to increase their influence and make massive investments in their own military capabilities. Within the last few weeks, aggressive Iranian patrol boats have harassed Navy ships while the threat of North Korea’s rocket and nuclear capabilities grow. Humanitarian emergencies brought on by conflict and natural disaster will continue to require American assistance.
Gen. Carter F. Ham, Gen. Larry O. Spencer and Skip Witunski.
While demand on the American military is increasing, we are falling behind. Our military has been expected to recuperate from over a decade of war, modernize equipment, develop revolutionary technologies, and meet current demands from our combatant commanders without growing the budget. If we are to continue to ask this much of our volunteer men and women and still maintain the best fighting force in the world, we must match our budget to our requirements and reverse this budgetary trend.*
The Army has the lowest manning level since World War II, and while Congress has moved to stop and slightly reverse the troop cuts, it remains unclear if the Army will be fully funded for the additional soldiers. While there are fewer combat deployments, there are still heavy demands from combatant commanders. About 182,000 soldiers are deployed or forward stationed today. About 46 percent of demand for joint forces comes from the Regular Army or its reserve components, and demand for Army forces is increasing. Decreases in the Army budget over the last several years have reduced capacity and slowed modernization and strained readiness. To keep deployed and deploying forces fully ready, the Army has slowed weapons modernization to the point U.S. ground forces face potential enemies who have comparable or better capacity and capabilities. At current funding, the Army faces a situation where its Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles will be 50 to 70 years old before they are replaced.
The U.S. Air Force is our nation’s first responder around the globe, however, it now has the smallest, oldest, and least ready force in its history. It operates an aging and increasingly costly force of refueling tankers over 50 years old; bombers, trainers and helicopters over 40; and fighters over 30 years old. The Air Force, in particular, has a growing strategy-resource mismatch — it is too small for its growing missions and too big for its budget. Since 1991, the force decreased by 38 percent and shrunk from 134 fighter squadrons to 55. They are now short 1,500 pilots and 3,400 maintainers. In the meantime, America’s potential adversaries are rapidly closing the technological superiority gap. The Air Force needs to grow its force and recapitalize its aging force structure to ensure continued core mission capabilities. Air and Space superiority are not American birthrights and need to be fought for and won.
As America’s away team, the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps are often first on the scene of international threats, helping to keep our enemies far from our shores. The Navy-Marine Corps team’s high operational tempo, combined with a shrinking fleet, is resulting in reduced readiness and overworked crews. Years of responding to crisis after crisis and delayed maintenance and modernization are crippling the services. Aircraft that were designed to fly 6,000 hours are now expected to fly 10,000 hours. Some submarines are no longer qualified to submerge. The Marine Corps is plagued by old equipment. Both services must have presence around the world at all times, but must also reset the fleet and bring sailors and Marines home on a predictable schedule for sea service families. Without more ships, there will be gaps in presence and more extended deployments — a dangerous situation in the current security environment. The Navy has stated that it needs a fleet of 355 ships to meet requirements.
America’s military needs three things: It needs a steady budget with the minimum of bipartisan bickering. It needs more money — and soon — to address critical capability gaps that our military leaders warn have created unnecessary risk. And, it needs full support from the nation, including the new administration, Congress and the American people.
Defense budget prospects a murky tale of 'irresistible forces and immovable objects'
By: Joe Gould, March 22, 2017
WASHINGTON — A week after the White House made its budget request, there are more questions on Capitol Hill about how defense is funded than answers.
The open-ended nature of budget deliberations was evident at the McAleese/Credit Suisse conference here, as lawmakers described for the defense industry crowd an unsettled effort to advance military spending.
The House Armed Services Committee’s ranking member, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash.,*speculated that when the dust settles, Congress will meet somewhere between the president’s proposed $603 billion defense budget and the $640 billion proposed by hawkish lawmakers. But Congress could just as easily deadlock and punt to another stopgap continuing resolution to fund the federal government, he said.
“There are a lot of irresistible forces and immovable objects confronting each other and how that is all going to get resolved, nobody knows,” Smith said, adding later:*“We don’t know how much money is going to come, but here are enough people in enough power positions that have made commitments to increase the defense budget that I would guess when it's all said and done, that number will be above $603 [billion].”
Among the tough stuff to reconcile, Smith said, is that White House budget director Mick Mulvaney wants a balanced budget within ten years, Republicans refuse to raise taxes, and Americans are opposed to cutting specific programs. Meanwhile, the president has promised to rebuild the military and not to cut entitlements.
“So our mission in Congress is to balance the budget without raising taxes or cutting programs, which is impossible,” Smith said. “Among the things they give you when elected to Congress, a magic wand is not one of them.”
Smith called for a new national security strategy that reflects the budget reality and not the Defense Department’s endless appetite. “Right now, we are not doing that, we are still on Fantasy Island, saying this is what we’ve got to have,” he said.
Smith, echoing past remarks, called for base closures and a less ambitious nuclear modernization strategy as a means of controlling expenditures.
A hawkish House lawmaker, Turner has for year spearheaded efforts to secure more military funding, and this week he is gathering colleagues' signatures on a letter calling for repeal of the 2011 Budget Control Act, which contains a budget-cutting provision dubbed sequestration.
“We are doing that to get members on the record, to think of the consequences of sequestration and come to the conclusion that they are pledged to vote for repeal,” Turner said.
The letter has 122 of the 150 signatures he is seeking. Such a measure would need 218 votes to pass the House and 60 votes in the Senate.
Repeal would create head room for both hawkish lawmakers to add to the president’s 2018 request for defense and to advance the president's budget-cap busting supplemental request for 2017. That supplemental, which largely forgoes the cap-exempt emergency funding known as OCO, would otherwise “run right into the wall of sequestration,” Turner said.
“We have to go forward with knocking down sequestration, which would allow us to take up the issue of 2018 [defense spending], and stop the fictional budgeting of raiding OCO,” Turner said. “It would allow for the type of budget that would allow for State and rational contracting and modernization.”
How can shipbuilding capacity get boosted to accommodate the larger Navy in line with its Force Structure Assessment? According to Wittman, a study is on the way to game out exactly how to get the Navy from 274 ships to 355 — and 12 aircraft carriers — over the next 30 years.
“How do we get that muscle memory back? How do we ensure we have the right skill set in the industry? How do we make sure we have no hiccups there,” Wittman said. “Those are all important things I assure in the weeks and months to come we will be addressing.”
The congressman has asked the Congressional Budget Office to lay out how it would get there in a 30-year scenario, in 25, 20 and 15 years, and what types of ships would make up the fleet. Another open question is whether it’s possible to fund ships incrementally.
Once the study is in hand — likely in May — it will guide the Seapower Subcommittee’s markup of the annual defense policy bill. To execute the ramp-up, Wittman said, “we have to make sure we have the right resources in the right places to make sure we get those ships built, that they get built on time and on budget.”
“We cannot afford anything less, and if we do anything less we hinder our ability to move forward,” he said.
Wittman acknowledged that growing the fleet will need personnel and maintenance funding to match. But he said he is comforted by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ commitment to such spending.
“We are failing in maintaining aircraft and ships, we’re behind,” he said. “All of these things don’t get us to the inventories we need in addition to what we have and maintaining those platforms.”
Pilots Can’t Fly, Ships Can’t Sail & Trump’s Budget Is DOA, Say McCain & Thornberry
By Colin Clark and Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.
on March 22, 2017 at 12:44 PM
Sen. John McCain and Rep Mac Thornberry
WASHINGTON: As Defense Secretary Jim Mattis prepared to appear before the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee to defend President Trump’s first defense budget, GOP stalwarts Sen. John McCain and Rep. Mac Thornberry were telling reporters it was dead on arrival.
“We’ve got planes that can’t fly, ships that can’t sail and Army units that can’t train,” McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters at a Defense Writers Group breakfast today, stressing the need for a larger defense budget than Trump has requested (McCain and Thornberry want a $640 billion budget for 2018 while Trump wants $603 billion) and that Congress must pass a regular appropriations bill for 2017 and not rely on a Continuing Resolution as it has for much of the last decade.
The effects of a CR could be grim. “If we have to live under a CR for the rest of the year, all but one deploying Army unit will cease training after July 15, including units scheduled to deploy to Korea and Europe. The Marine Corps will cease all flight operations in July and have to get rid of over 2,000 Marines,” said Thornberry, chair of the House Armed Services Committee. Some will say the services are picking the most sensitive effects of sequestration to fend off any cuts, but this is what they have told Thornberry.
The Army’s vice chief of staff, Gen. Daniel Allyn, told the McAleese/Credit Suisse annual conference this morning that the service will “run out of money in mid-July on the current spend rate, and when that happens all the readiness gains we’ve been building for the last two-and-a-half years are going to start to tip down the precipice.”
Will Congress pass a regular appropriations bill for 2017? The Senate is the key, and McCain told us he “doesn’t know.” But he didn’t sound confident, noting the agenda in the Senate is “crowded” with the so-called replacement for Obamacare as well as the nomination hearings and votes on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Thornberry, clearly trying to send a message to his senatorial colleagues, put the case against a CR bluntly: “This is life and death and has real consequences.” Whether budget hawks and some Democrats will buy that argument remains to be seen.
One of the smartest defense lawmakers, Rep. Adam Smith, told the McAleese/Credit Suisse conference there was a solution, but it’s a nettle the GOP fears to grasp.
“if you feel this strongly about the need to increase the number of ships, the size of the Army, the size of the Marine Corps, how much we pay pilots, the readiness — if you feel that strongly about it, raise the frickin’ taxes to pay for it,” Smith, the top HASC Democrat, said in his inimitable style. Smith also predicted that the 2018 budget would probably top Trump’s request of $603 billion: “My guess is it will go up a little bit, but nowhere near what people are talking about.”
Speaking after Smith, Republican Rep. Rob Wittman also agreed the budget should and would come in higher than Trump’s $603 billion, tho not necessarily at McCain and Thornbery’s $640 billion. But, the chairman of HASC’s seapower subcommittee went on, a lasting solution requires taking on entitlements — which are as much a third rail for the left as taxes are for the right. “The broader budget discussion I do believe does have to address the autopilot spending programs, [not just] the discretionary part of the budget,” Wittman said. “I know the president does not want to address those areas but i believe the House will and has to.”
Military Can Still ‘Defend the Homeland’ — But…
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified this morning before the SAC-D that the US military still “can defend the Homeland, meet our alliance commitments, and maintain a competitive advantage over any adversary we face. That is an important point that should not be lost on our adversaries, our Allies and partners, or the American people.”
But Dunford added that, “sustained operational commitments, budgetary instability, and advances by our adversaries have eroded our competitive advantage.”
McCain hammered away at the readiness problems faced by the military, saying that Air Force pilots are “flying less than their Russian and Chinese counterparts,” which will drive pilots out of the service, worsening an already worrying pilot shortage. If the CR continues, Air Force Vice-Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen W. Wilson, told the McAleese conference this morning, the service would run out of funding for flight hours entirely this summer.
Perhaps Trump’s most consistent military message has been that he will rebuild the Navy and boost the fleet to 350 ships up from the currently planned 308. The question was, with the relatively small number of Navy shipyards and the shrunken defense industrial base, can America boost the fleet efficiently and quickly, Neither lawmaker really answered the question directly, but Thornberry came closest, noting that it takes years just to qualify a welder who works on nuclear submarines.
On another issue, my colleague John Donnelly of CQ/RollCall asked McCain and Thornberry if President Trump faces a credibility problem with allies and the American public. Both Republicans were careful to sideslip the question. The senator, who joked at one point that he and Thornberry “are committed to making America great again,” offered a lukewarm defense of Trump. He “is in the first stages of his presidency, and “the jury is still out.”
Thornberry offered a gentle dig, saying “it’s taken them a bit longer to get their feet under them than most,” because so few Trump campaigners had any government experience. But, Thornberry added wryly, “It’s the actions that count louder than the tweets.” As we all know, though,*it’s often the tweets we remember best, not the actions. And that goes for our allies and our enemies, to some extent.