Without sustained investments in our troops and their equipment, the military power our nation now wields in defense of our security—including our economic security—will slowly be hollowed out. The result is likely to be an America that can go fewer places and do fewer things in defense of its global interests.
While that may sound good to those who remain uncomfortable with America’s leadership role in the world, starving the military will not make us any safer, given the global demands on our security interests.
The U.S. military confronts readiness shortfalls and a growing array of risks and security challenges. That is why I am deeply concerned about the avalanche of military spending cuts being discussed — from President Barack Obama’s $400 billion proposal to the Senate’s Gang of Six proposal that could cut up to $886 billion.
The time to draw a line in the sand, and go on the offense to support national security must be now.
Let’s be clear: Defense spending is not what put us in this position, and gutting the defense budget to pay the bills is unlikely to get us out of it. As a percentage of our gross domestic product, the defense budget remains just 3.6 percent. This figure is low by all historical standards.
Even if we start slashing major portions of the budget — say $50 billion each year over the next decade — that figure would still only add up to a fraction of the nation’s debt. Yet the additional risk to the nation could be substantial.
Today’s military is worn out from a decade of operations that have pushed already aging platforms to the edge. More than half the Navy’s deployed aircraft are not fully combat ready, as we recently discovered at a House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee hearing, and approximately one in five of our Navy ships are deemed unsatisfactory or mission degraded.
With known shortfalls in the Navy maintenance accounts, the Defense Department would be severely challenged to meet the expected service life of its equipment. Even more concerning are the assessments from our Combatant Commanders in the unclassified portion of the Quarterly Readiness Report to Congress. This paints a distressing picture of a military stretched thin by nearly 10 years of war and a sustained lack of resources.
Even as our forces have been aged rapidly by the high tempo of operations in the past decade, the president has cancelled a generation of weapons programs in just the last two years. While much of the nation has smart phones and iPads, the Army is still operating on an Atari-like system.
With readiness shortfalls and pressure to modernize aging platforms, how can we pretend we can defend the country with even more defense cuts? Our national defense planning must be based on an open and objective review of the threats we face and the resources required to meet them. Unfortunately, we now have that process in reverse.
In many ways, it’s like a family who is about to purchase a new home. The correct course would be to have an inspector look at the house and tell the family what the problems are and what they will cost to fix. What if, instead, that family told the inspector that they only had $1,000, and they wanted the inspector to go through and identify only $1,000 worth of problems to fix?
This is analogous to the way the Defense Department and the Obama administration expect Congress to approach national defense. They dictate how much we will spend on defense without fully and objectively detailing the risks we face, or the choices we must make.
This wouldn’t be a sensible course for the new homeowners. So why does it pass as acceptable for managing our national security?
In the past two years, the administration has executed two rounds of defense cuts, with the masthead of another likely on the way as part of an agreement to lift the debt ceiling. With growing readiness problems and a generation of military modernization either cut or on the chopping-block, we are now facing a $400-$900 billion defense cut looming over the horizon.
While our armed forces are charged with defending our national security, it is the Congress’ responsibility to provide them with the resources to accomplish the tasks we set for them. Our men and woman in uniform diligently execute these tasks.
It is time for the Congress to do its job and provide adequately for the common defense.
Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) serves as the chairman of the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee. Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) serves as the chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) serves on the House Rules Committee. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) serves on the House Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee.