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Rebuilding a Depleted Military

By Wesley Smith1508860021553

As Congress finally finishes up the 2018 federal budget, the proposed National Defense Authorization Act 2018 (NADA) will be approved by Congress and submitted for the President’s signature.  However, the real key to its implementation is in the respective Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate.  The requested funds must be appropriated. This is a critical juncture in the Article 1 Constitutionally-mandated responsibility of the Congress:  to “provide for the common defense” of the nation.  It is the most important thing that Congress does.

Six years ago, the nation faced a federal deficit crisis.  This led to the Budget Control Act of 2011, better known as Sequester.  The bill’s intent was to incentivize the warring political parties in Congress to reduce the growth of the federal budget by mandating cuts so drastic and painful, that the parties would be forced to compromise and address out of control federal spending.  The compromise predictably failed and the threatened cuts became law, calling for equal and arbitrary cuts in domestic and defense spending. 

However, as the Department of Defense faced the cuts mandated by sequester, the operational tempo of the U.S. military increased.  The fight against ISIS and other terror groups, the war in Afghanistan, the necessity of maintaining a robust military presence in Asia to counter the threats of North Korea, the need to support NATO to counter Russian interference and aggression in Eastern Europe, increased participation of U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq, and more, requires the armed forces to do more and more with fewer and fewer resources.  This has led to the degradation of equipment, training and personnel across all branches of the military.

Meanwhile, China has increased military spending 650% over the last twenty years. It continues its expansion in the South China Sea. Russia continues to occupy parts of Ukraine and poses a threat to the strategic interests of NATO.  North Korea is a nuclear power intent on developing a nuclear-armed ballistic missile capable of striking anywhere in the continental United States.  Iran continues to sow unrest.  Its terror groups, such as Hezbollah, as well as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Shiite Militias work to undermine stability in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen.  The Middle East and North Africa, where four U.S. Special Forces troops died two weeks ago, are arenas that continue to be plagued by Islamist terror organizations.

Writing for the Modern War Institute at West Point, Liam Collins and John Amble recently wrote:  “The military is now in a death spiral: too small for its workload; underfunded to repair and replace the equipment it is rapidly wearing out; ill-served by obsolescent critical infrastructure at its ports, bases, and airfields, and increasingly unready for the rigors and scope of a major conventional conflict should the United States find itself drawn into one, which has happened every 20 years or so with frightful regularity since the Civil War.” 

The U.S. Navy is the smallest since before World War I.  We have had four significant ship accidents this year resulting in the deaths of 17 sailors.  Initial reports indicate lack of training and basic ship-handling skills were part of the cause. The 7th Fleet, homeported in Japan, has an operational area that spans 124 million square kilometers.

Less than half of the Marines Corps aviation assets are flyable. 

The U.S. Air Force is critically short of both pilots and mission-ready aircraft and its fleet of warplanes includes aging weapons platforms, such as the B-52, which first came into use in 1952.

The Army is the smallest since the beginning of World War II.  It is also plagued with aging equipment and lack of funds for optimal training.  It still reels from troop cuts enacted during the Obama Administration.

Part of the stop-gap fix provided by Congress over the last several years is to pass Continuing Resolutions to fund the military.  However, when this happens the Defense Department is forced to make do with limited funding levels from the previous fiscal year.  Meanwhile, expenditures go up, as does the demand for the deployment of U.S. assets around the world.  I personally witnessed the debilitating effects of continuing resolutions during my years at the Pentagon, especially as it relates to programs, weapons, maintenance, and training for critical combat skills. I submit that sequester and continuing resolutions are a Congressional cop out.  It is the result of our elected representatives failing to fulfill their Article 1 responsibilities.

Speaking earlier this month at the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), Secretary of Defense Mattis described the world situation as “the most complex and demanding that I have seen in all my years of service.” He highlighted the fight against terror in the Middle East and the malevolent actions of the leading state-sponsor of terrorism, Iran, which continues to maintain military troops and proxies in Iraq and Syria, with an eye to keeping them there permanently.

The secretary talked bluntly about the ongoing crisis with North Korea, stating: “It is right now a diplomatically led, economic sanctions-buttressed effort to try to turn North Korea off this path.  Now what does the future hold?  Neither you nor I can say.  So, there’s one thing the U.S. Army can do.  And that is, you’ve got to be ready to ensure that we have military options that our President can employ, if needed.”  Force may eventually be necessary to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.

Mattis concluded, “Everything we do must contribute to the increased lethality of our military.  We must never lose sight of the fact that we have no God-given right to victory on the battlefield . . . and I want Congress back in the driver’s seat of budget decisions, not in the spectator’s seat of automatic cuts.”

Secretary Mattis’ testimony before Congress was even more direct: “Nothing has done more damage to the readiness of our armed forces than the continuing resolutions that stop us from taking the initiative, than the lack of budgetary predictability . . . . I bring this up because if we don’t get budget predictability, if we don’t remove the defense caps, then we’re questioning whether or not America has the ability to survive.  It’s that simple.”

It is time for a stalemated Congress to unite in support of the military and our national defense.  The Left needs to lay aside partisanship and their attempts to oppose the President on any front, and join with congressional leadership to approve the appropriate dollars and fund the National Defense Authorization Act for 2018.  The American people deserve this, as do our men and women in uniform.  It is also, in fact, a matter of national security.

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