Nearly a month and a half after the onset of the new fiscal year, the House and Senate have agreed on a number of reconciliation measures between their disparate defense budgets. The combined defense spending bill will bring a much-needed influx of cash into America’s under-maintained and over-worked fighting force, but there’s one problem: even now, we’re still a minimum of weeks away from this new bill being put to a vote.
The good news is that the Defense Department finally has an idea of how much they will receive to continue conducting combat operations in multiple theaters around the globe, while striving to return the American force to a state of readiness that can deter potential peer-level opponents in the future. A concrete figure will permit officials the ability to do the sort of budget planning they should have completed months ago, had America’s law makers managed to pass the bill on time. In the meantime, the Defense Department continues to operate under a continuing resolution, which effectively means maintaining operations without a budget, strangling funds from training, development, and readiness programs that may have prevented the unnecessary deaths of 17 sailors and 18 Marines in just the past few months alone.
Senior leaders within the Navy have cited a number of issues as responsible for collisions between the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain, but primary among them was a lack of training among the bridge crew. Distraught as the American public is about these revelations, the funding necessary to truly implement the sort of change the Navy needs remains behind the political barrier of Congress and the Senate, slowly inching their way toward passing a single budget.
Once passed, the new budget will include a massive increase in funds over the previous fiscal year, with $700 billion being authorized for our nation’s security, far more than FY 2017’s $619 billion. That increase in funding will go toward increasing troop totals by more than 16,000 service members force wide, 90 more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and $65.7 billion will go specifically toward continued combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also includes more money toward missile defense programs and the funds necessary to build five additional Navy ships, though three will be the littoral combat ships that many within the Navy believe lack the firepower necessary to be an offensive asset in any real conflict.
The new budget also does away with the concept of establishing a Space Corps, but in an ironic twist it also doesn’t mandate that the Air Force actually make any changes to the ways they have managed the growing threat nations like Russia and China pose against our orbital infrastructure. Much of America’s military has become GPS dependent and relies on satellite communications heavily, though we currently have no assets or defensive measures in place that could stop one of China or Russia’s existing orbital platforms from destroying the satellites we rely on. Instead, the Air Force is tasked with studying the idea of doing something about that threat at some point in the future, presenting its findings with no specific deadline.
“The Air Force will no longer be able to treat space as a third-order priority after fighter jets and bombers,” a joint statement from Rep. Mike Rogers, the Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman, and Rep. Jim Cooper said. “We have consolidated leadership and coordination between operations, acquisition and training, and eliminated the decentralized and ineffective structure that for too long hampered our space capabilities and readiness.”
“This is just the first step. We will not allow the United States national security space enterprise to continue to drift toward a space Pearl Harbor,” they said.
Despite its shortcomings, the new budget promises to provide the Defense Department with the funds it needs to begin shifting toward a state of readiness instead of just trying to keep its collective head above water, but there are no guarantees that the money will be forthcoming any time soon. Despite agreeing on the figures, Democrats have promised to block an effort to increase Defense spending without matching it with equal increases in domestic programs. This stance will likely cause further issues, as current Federal budget models already don’t allow for the increase in defense spending, let alone a matching investment in other programs.
Currently there is not even an announced date in which the new bill will be put to a vote in either the House or the Senate, though they can be expected to take place within “the coming weeks.”
Image courtesy of the Department of Defense