Military readiness must be bolstered, Defense Department leaders told the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee today.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the senators that sequestration gutted military readiness and asked the committee to approve a $30 billion amendment to the fiscal year 2017 defense budget request to help the department recover.
Dunford was quick to point out that service members are sacrificing and that because of those sacrifices, “the joint forces can defend the homeland and our way of life, we can meet our alliance commitments and we maintain an overall competitive advantage over any potential adversary.”
The general does not want any potential adversary to think the United States cannot defend itself. Still, if the current budget climate is allowed to continue, the U.S. competitive advantage will continue to erode, he said.
Military actions around the globe add their own special erosion. “Fifteen years of war have also taken a toll on our people and our equipment,” Dunford said. “Many of our men and women continue to deploy as much as they are home. Similarly, our platforms, weapons and equipment are showing signs of wear. In many cases, we have far exceeded the planned service life for our vehicles, our aircraft and our ships.”
Budget battles also impose readiness blockages. “Eight years of continuing resolutions and the absence of predictable funding has forced the department to prioritize near-term readiness at the expense of modernization and advance capability development,” the general said. “We now face what has been described as a bow wave of modernization requirements for both our nuclear and our conventional forces.”
Potential foes see this, he said, and invest money into capabilities in space, cyber, electronic warfare and missile defense, again closing the gap between themselves and the United States.
“It's important that we reverse that trend,” Dunford added.
The fiscal 2017 defense budget request is a much-needed first step and it will address the most urgent near-term readiness concerns, the chairman said. It will fund current operations, address personnel shortfalls, resource training and improve maintenance across the joint force. “The additional request for resources also allows us to procure limited quantities of needed equipment to fill holes in our deploying units,” he said.
The budget amendment also contains $5.8 billion for overseas contingency operations. This will allow the military to further accelerate the campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Dunford said. “From my perspective, not having the OCO money will restrict our ability actually to accelerate the campaign and seize opportunities,” the general said. “We’ll lose some flexibility.”
The extra money is needed to buy spare parts, ammunition and for more soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. “We really do have many of our people that are home about an equal amount of time to the time they deployed,” the chairman told the subcommittee. “I visited one U.S. Navy ship last September. They were under way in a previous 12 months 70 percent of the time. They were at sea because of an important ballistic missile defense capability.”
The budget asks for some extra equipment. “We see that particularly in the case of the aviation enterprise, where units have fewer aircraft than they rate,” he said, which creates two problems.
The first is the unit doesn’t have the system needed to go to war. “The other is they don’t have sufficient aircraft to train,” Dunford said. “And so, our pilots also have degraded readiness as a result of not have sufficient aircraft.”
The chairman used a Navy squadron in Oceana Naval Air Base, Virginia, as an example. The squadron rates 10 aircraft, but actually has only five mission-ready aircraft. “You can't get pilots to the right level of training proficiency on those five aircraft, which has two effects: one, is a readiness effect,” he said. “The other is, over time, is a morale issue. We see the same thing with helicopters in the Army.”
The chairman’s experiences over the past decade give him a much broader definition of readiness. “To me, it’s about what actions are necessary to make units whole, to allow them to be combat effective and deployable,” he said. “Today, it’s a combination not only of maintaining equipment that we have; not only addressing the spare parts shortfall, but actually … now replacing shadows [on] the ramp where equipment doesn't physically exist in the unit at a material condition that would allow us to deploy it.”
Now is the time to address this situation, he said. Any delay just pushes the readiness problem down the road. The military will ensure that units deploying in harm’s way have the training, personnel, spare parts and equipment they need. But the units at home station will be stripped and the cost to bring readiness to acceptable levels will be much more farther down the budgetary road.
“So admittedly, some of these initiatives won’t realize a readiness benefit until 2019 or ’20, but if we don’t take the action in ’17, that will simply become 2021 or ’22,” he said.