America's Self-Inflicted National Security Crisis

Randy Forbes
2015-03-13 09:36:57

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The United States has a choice. We can continue on our current path and provide our military barely enough resources to fight the wars of the past, let alone prepare for future conflicts. Or we can begin the process of restoring the greatest military the world has ever known to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Below is my recent Op-Ed on this subject with former Senator Jim Talent.

Yours in service,


America's Self-Inflicted National Security Crisis

Real Clear Defense
By J. Randy Forbes & Jim Talent
March 12, 2015

Over the past several years, knowledgeable witnesses appearing before Congress have testified to an impending crisis in national security. Whether it is the readiness of American personnel, the capability of our ships and aircraft, or the size of the force itself, the warnings have been both frequent and alarming. The Chief of Staff of the Army, General Ray Odierno, is uncertain whether the United States could prevail in a major regional war. General Mark Welsh, Chief of Staff of the Air Force has warned that we can no longer be assured of dominating the air in a future conflict. The Commander of U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel Locklear, has stated that losing just a few more ships will reduce our Navy from a global to a regional power. They all believe that we are not near a crisis point for the defense of the United States. We have already reached it.

Four years ago, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates offered a plan calling for modest yearly increases in his Department’s budgets over the next ten years. We had serious doubts whether that budget was sufficient to enable the armed forces to recover after ten years of hard fighting and after a history of underfunding -- especially for the modernization accounts -- dating back to the 1990s. But the Gates’ proposal would at least have allowed the Department to maintain its end strength, support a modest increase in shipbuilding, and begin to recapitalize its inventories.

However, within a short time Congress and the President agreed on the Budget Control Act and sequester, which together cut the Gates’ budgets by $1 trillion over ten years. Secretary Leon Panetta said at the time that those cuts were “like shooting ourselves in the head.” He was right; the cuts have forced reductions in personnel, the elimination of modernization programs, and a dangerous decline in day-to-day military readiness.

For example:

-Under sequestration, the Army will be cut to 420,000 soldiers, its smallest size since 1941. Training will be reduced for most units to only platoon and company-level exercises. Modernization will be reduced, forcing the service to rely on equipment purchased during the Reagan build-up;

-Today’s Air Force inventory of fighters, bombers, among others, is the oldest and smallest in the history of the service. Less than half of the service’s combat squadrons are fully ready today. Under the full impact of sequestration, readiness will plummet and the number of fighter, bomber and surveillance units will be reduced again by half. Also affected will be the Air Force’s ability to provide strike, close-air support and surveillance to protect a more vulnerable smaller army;

- The size of the fleet will shrink, per the Chief of Naval Operations, to a regional force of about 250 ships, possibly lower. By 2020, US naval forces assigned to the Western Pacific will total only one-third to one-fourth of the size of China’s growing modern fleet which will be between 325 to 350 ships. Moreover, the ability to reinforce that diminished fleet, as measured by the Navy’s contingency response force, will continue to decline as readiness continues to decline

- The Commandant of the Marine Corps, testified on February 26 that one half of his non-deployed units suffer from shortfalls in personnel, equipment and training under the current limited impact of sequestration. The full impact of sequestration, he explained, would force the Marine Corps “to divest ourselves of people …or to stop training.”

Last year, the National Defense Panel co-chaired by former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry and former Centcom Commander John Abizaid, convened to review the Department of Defense Quadrennial Defense Review plans. In a report, the Panel bluntly, repeatedly, and unanimously condemned the cuts and warned of the nefarious effect they were having on America’s armed forces:

“[T]oday the Department is facing major readiness shortfalls that will, absent a decisive reversal of course, create the possibility of a hollow force that loses its best people, underfunds procurement, and shortchanges innovation. The fact that each service is experiencing degradations in so many areas at once is especially troubling at a time of growing security challenges.” The Panel recommended strongly that the cuts be reversed and the Gates’ 2011 budget be reinstated as the minimum funding necessary to protect American national security.Those recommendations were recently endorsed by a bipartisan group of 85 defense experts who condemned the “cuts [that] are undermining the readiness of our forces today and investment in the critical capabilities they will need tomorrow.

We live in a time of increasing global risk. Russia is invading Ukraine and threatening Eastern Europe, China is engaged in a massive military buildup to support its provocative actions in the Western Pacific, North Korea is increasing its nuclear stockpile, ISIS has established a caliphate, Iran is approaching nuclear capability, and Islamic terrorism is spreading to more and more countries. There is no conceivable world where what amounts to unilateral American disarmament would make sense; but in the world of today it is madness beyond measure.

As we write this, the leaders of Congress are preparing their budget resolution for the upcoming year.  That budget should, as a minimum, incorporate the recommendations of the National Defense Panel by increasing defense spending to at least the Gates’ baseline as soon as possible within the ten-year window; it should also lift defense funding in FY 2016 substantially above the President’s recommendations so that the Department can restore the current readiness of its forces and begin a realistic plan to modernize its inventory of equipment.

America’s armed forces are the foundation of a national security architecture that is designed, in the first instance, to deter aggression against American and its vital national interests. Essentially, the United States uses its power to manage and defuse threats before they rise to the level of uncontrollable armed aggression or conflict. Our servicemen and women have done their part; they continue to show the highest degree of courage and commitment. The least they deserve from their political representatives is a budget that is honestly designed to give them the capabilities they need. That hasn’t happened for four years, and everyone knows it; it must happen now, before another year is wasted, and while there is still time to avert the storms that are gathering around the world.

Representative J. Randy Forbes is Chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee in the House Armed Services Committee.

American Enterprise Institute (AEI) senior fellow Jim Talent is the director of the National Security Project 2020 at AEI’s Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies. A former U.S. Senator from Missouri, he was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the chairman of the Subcommittee on Seapower.

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