Global security threats are not fading, even as the Defense Department looks for ways to balance worldwide security demands with diminished resources, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.
The recent events in Ukraine demonstrated the world will continue to hold unpleasant surprises, Dempsey said.
“The most likely threats emanate from violent extremist groups and from ungoverned spaces, yet we can never discount the possibility of state-on-state conflict,” the chairman said. “Therefore, our force must remain postured to provide options across the full spectrum of potential conflicts.”
Dempsey began last week in Afghanistan, where he addressed the region’s security challenges and spoke with troops and commanders, he said.
“As always, I left there inspired,” Dempsey said, adding that the troops there remain fully engaged in their missions. “They continue to build the institution of the Afghan national security forces, which given the right political structure around them, has the ability to sustain the fight,” he told the Senate panel.
The Defense Department will be prepared to support a variety of options over the next several months as the relationship with Afghanistan moves forward, the chairman said, noting that this includes the option for a complete drawdown of forces by the end of the year.
The variety of scenarios the military may face means that the force must be prepared to “provide options across the full spectrum of potential conflicts,” the general said. “At the same time,” he added, “the balance between our security demands and our available resources has rarely been more delicate.”
The department’s proposed fiscal year 2015 budget strikes the best balance between national security and fiscal responsibilities, Dempsey said. By providing the tools for today's force to accomplish its missions, rebuilding readiness and modernizing and ensuring that the force is globally networked, the budget request reveals in real terms how the department is reducing costs and working to ensure that the force is in the right balance, the chairman told the senators.
“As a whole, the budget helps us to remain the world's finest military -- modern, capable and ready -- even while transitioning to a smaller and more affordable force over time,” he said.
The Bipartisan Budget Act signed last year allows the department to buy back some of the readiness it lost due to 13 years of war, but it doesn’t solve all of DOD’s problems, Dempsey said. “It's not a long-term solution to sequestration, but it does give us a measure of near-term relief and stability,” he noted.
Dempsey said he and the Joint Chiefs will never stop looking for ways for the force to become more effective.
“We'll do things smarter and more efficiently, more in line with the sorts of security challenges that we face today, and in line with the fiscal reality. … And we'll invest deeper in developing leaders of consequence at every level -- men and women of both competence and character, who are good stewards of the special trust and confidence gifted to us by our fellow citizens,” he said.
But, he added, the department has infrastructure it doesn’t need, legacy weapon systems that it can't afford, and personnel costs that have grown at a disproportionate rate. Without Congress’ cooperation in managing these costs, Dempsey said, “we do face unbalanced cuts to readiness and modernization.”
“We simply can't ignore the imbalances that ultimately make our force less effective than what the nation needs,” the chairman said.
These issues weigh heavily on the minds of service members and their families, he said. “Our force is extraordinarily accepting of change; they’re less understanding of uncertainty and piecemeal solutions,” Dempsey said. “They want and they deserve predictability.”
The proposed budget does assume some risks, the chairman acknowledged.
“I expect more difficult conventional fights,” Dempsey said. “We must rely increasingly on allies and partners and our global responsibilities are currently undiminished and will have to be placed in balance.”
The risks only increase if sequester-level cuts return in fiscal year 2016, he said.
“That's a gamble none of us should be willing to take, because it's … America's sons and daughters who will face tomorrow's challenges with whatever strategy, structure and resources we develop today.
“Our most sacred obligation is to make sure they're never sent into a fair fight,” he continued, “which is to say they must remain the best-trained, best-led, best-equipped force on the planet.”
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @rouloafps)