America’s armed forces are the safeguard of our nation’s liberties. The U.S. military protects the homeland and secures America’s national interests abroad. Aside from providing security, it also bolsters international alliances, assures allies, and assists in disaster response. No other country has the enduring vital national interests or responsibilities that the United States has; therefore, the U.S. military must have a global reach.
To protect and defend America’s vital national interests, the U.S. military must have the tools it needs to deter attacks and enhance diplomatic efforts—and, when diplomacy and deterrence fail, to fight and win. Combat victory requires a force adequately equipped to defend the U.S. and its allies from a range of threats.
America’s security commitments around the globe have strained every branch of the armed forces. While the root of the problem lies in cuts made by the Obama Administration before the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) entered into force, sequestration is exacerbating the problem and is devastating to U.S. military readiness. Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton cut defense spending dramatically. The Clinton Administration reduced the entire military—its forces and equipment—by one-third under the utopian assumption that the end of the Cold War would lead to a “lasting peace.” This “procurement holiday” has left the military with aging and out-of-date equipment.
The world did not get any safer. It was President Ronald Reagan’s military buildup in the 1980s, coupled with his successful diplomacy, that created a cushion that largely allowed defense investments to be deferred in the 1990s even though military operations were ramped up. Defense budget increases since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 have largely been consumed by a high pace of operations.
The Administration has cut the number of MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor vertical takeoff and landing aircraft by half (from 48 to 24). It has delayed the Ohio-class strategic submarine by two years, which will cause the fleet to fall below the legally mandated 12 boats for a decade. It has also terminated the RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle Block 30 program. On average, major U.S. military platforms are now more than 25 years old and are wearing out much more quickly than planned, due principally to the high pace of U.S. military operations. Many of today’s tanker and bomber pilots are flying in airplanes first used by their grandfathers. The U.S. Navy fleet contains the smallest number of ships since 1916. Yet the Navy is being tasked with more responsibilities than ever, such as securing vital sea-lanes of commerce around the world that are worth over $14 trillion annually.
Sequestration is exacerbating impacts on U.S. readiness and capabilities. Army Vice Chief of Staff John Campbell recently stated: “Some people would call that tiered readiness, where we said we never were going to go again.” Chief of Naval Operations Jonathan Greenert stated: “[Navy] surge capacity, I predict, will be about one-third of the norm as we’re looking to ’14.” Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh recently reacted to the possibility of operations in Syria: “If the president decides to take action [against the Syrian regime], the Air Force and the services will carry out their assigned missions—but we are not going to be as ready as we would like.” The Marine Corps is currently maintaining a high state of readiness, but only at an extraordinary level of risk in terms of future modernization. Commandant James Amos testified: “Over the long-term, resourcing short-term readiness by borrowing-forward from long-term investment resources is unsustainable, and will eventually degrade unit readiness to an unacceptable level.”
America is asking all of its military forces to do more but does not provide them with sufficient resources to do so without incurring unacceptable levels of risk. U.S. soldiers are under stress. They have been strained by 10 years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. These circumstances have taken their toll on both people and equipment. The bipartisan Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) Independent Panel concluded in 2010 that “the aging of the inventories and equipment used by the services, the decline in the size of the Navy, escalating personnel entitlements, overhead and procurement costs, and the growing stress on the force means that a train wreck is coming in the areas of personnel, acquisition, and force structure.” The “train wreck” is here, and it threatens to undermine America’s ability to defend itself and protect its vital national interests at a time when threats to its security are increasing.
Both Iran and North Korea have active nuclear and ballistic missile programs and the ability to reach U.S. allies and forward-deployed troops with ballistic missiles. The U.S. ballistic missile defense program is lagging behind the threat. Since taking office, President Obama has cancelled some of the most promising missile defense programs, including the Multiple Kill Vehicle, Airborne Laser, and Kinetic Energy Interceptor. In March 2013, the Administration recognized the fallacy of its policies and announced its decision to increase the number of Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) interceptors in the U.S. to 44, the same number the Bush Administration wanted to deploy. This decision was made in response to North Korea’s threats to use nuclear weapons on the U.S. and the Administration’s recognition that North Korea has improved its ballistic missile program. The Administration, however, cancelled the SM-3 Block IIB interceptor that was supposed to protect the U.S. from a long-range ballistic missile threat, especially from Iran. This cancellation might mean that the U.S. will find itself falling behind the Iranian missile threat in the future.
China is engaged in a non-transparent major military buildup with unclear intentions. A re-emergent Russia is vigorously modernizing its nuclear forces and seeks to intimidate its former Soviet neighbors, Europe, and the NATO alliance. Terrorist threats to the U.S. and its European allies emanate from Southwest Asia, the Middle East, and failed states. Cyber attacks threaten critical financial and communication networks in an already teetering economy as well as the national security assets that employ them.
The Administration has already cut defense spending by around almost $900 billion when one considers overlapping seven years of its budget proposals in fiscal year (FY) 2011 and FY 2014. This does not account for the effects of sequestration, which will mean an additional reduction of half a trillion dollars through FY 2021 if the law does not change. These reductions will “hollow out” the military and already have had a significant impact on the readiness of U.S. armed forces.
The debt deal also did not fully address the cause of the debt crisis: runaway domestic spending and the burgeoning growth of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Indeed, the projected growth of entitlement programs will soon make it impossible for Congress to provide a robust defense budget, take care of those in uniform, and provide for the common defense.
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