The fiscal year 2017 defense budget request is a good start -- but only a start -- toward maintaining a military capable of fighting and winning today’s wars and producing a military capable of winning in the future, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee today.
“I don't believe we ought to ever send Americans into a fair fight,” Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. said in his testimony on the $582.7 billion budget request.
The United States must maintain a joint force that has the capability and credibility to reassure allies and partners, deter aggression and overmatch any potential adversary, the general said. “This requires us to continually improve our joint warfighting capabilities, restore full spectrum readiness and develop the leaders who will serve as the foundation for the future,” he said.
The general also discussed the five strategic challenges that Defense Secretary Ash Carter has said the United States is facing. The five challenges come from Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and extremist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and al-Qaida.
Dunford emphasized that confronting these challenges requires a long-term approach.
“Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea continue to invest in military capabilities that reduce our competitive advantage,” the chairman said. “They are also advancing their interests through competition with a military dimension that falls short of traditional armed conflict and the threshold for a traditional military response.”
Russia’s actions in annexing Crimea and continued provocations in eastern Ukraine are one example, he said. Another is China continuing to militarize disputes in the South China Sea region. And, the chairman said, Iran’s activities throughout the Middle East.
“At the same time, non-state actors such as ISIL and al-Qaida pose a threat to the homeland, the American people, our partners and our allies,” Dunford said. “Given the opportunity, such extremist groups would fundamentally change our way of life.”
Underpinning the defense strategy is the necessity to maintain credible nuclear and conventional capabilities, the chairman said.
“Our strategic nuclear deterrent remains effective … but it is aging and requires modernization,” Dunford said. “Therefore, we are prioritizing investments needed for a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent.”
DoD is also investing in technologies and procedures that will maintain conventional capabilities and “develop capabilities in the vital and increasingly contested domains of cyber and space,” he said.
All this is happening in a fiscally constrained environment, the general said. “Despite partial relief by Congress from sequester-level funding, the department has absorbed $800 billion in cuts, and faces an additional $100 billion of sequestration-induced risk through FY ’21,” he said. “Absorbing significant cuts over the past five years has resulted in our underinvesting in critical capabilities, and unless we reverse sequestration, we will be unable to execute the current defense strategy.”
The fiscal 2017 budget request begins to address the most critical investments required, he said. “It does so by balancing three major areas: investment in the high-end capabilities; the capability and capacity to meet current operational demands; and the need to rebuild readiness after an extended period of war,” Dunford said. In the years ahead, we'll need adequate funding levels and predictability to fully recover from over a decade at war and delayed modernization.”
There are a lot of bills due in the future, the chairman said, including the Ohio-class submarine replacement, continued cyber and space investments and the long-range strike bomber. “It will also be several years before we fully restore full spectrum readiness across the services and replenish our stocks of critical precision munitions,” he said.
“I’m satisfied that the FY17 budget [proposal] puts us on the right trajectory, but it will take your continued support to ensure the joint force has the depth, flexibility, readiness and responsiveness that ensures any future fight is not fair,” Dunford said.
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