American Secretary of Defense James Mattis did not mince words with Congress on Monday as he testified before the House Armed Services Committee about President Trump’s fiscal year 2018 defense spending proposal. According to the storied Marine General turned SECDEF, things have grown progressively worse for the men and women in uniform fighting in a multitude of conflicts in recent years.
“For all the heartache caused by the loss of our troops during these wars, no enemy in the field has done more to harm the readiness of our military than sequestration,” Mattis told lawmakers.
The budget requested by the president for 2018 calls for a $639.1 billion topline, which breaks down into $574.5 billion for the Defense Department’s traditional budgetary requirements and $64.6 set aside for overseas contingency operations.
The Defense Secretary was direct in who he felt was to blame for what he called a “shocking” state of the U.S. military’s lack of readiness for combat. Mattis was tasked with assessing the military infrastructure of the United States in terms of its preparation for a large-scale conflict with a near-peer adversary like those potentially found in the likes of Russia or China – and he blames Congress for allowing America’s military to stagnate and even weaken throughout recent years of partisan bickering and ineffectual budgetary posturing.
“We need bipartisan support for this budget request. In the past, by failing to pass a budget on time or eliminate the threat of sequestration, Congress sidelined itself from its active constitutional oversight role,” the secretary told the committee.
“Continuing resolutions coupled with sequestration blocked new programs, prevented service growth, stalled industry initiative and placed troops at greater risk. Despite the tremendous efforts of this committee, Congress as a whole has met the present challenge with lassitude, not leadership.”
Mattis went on to remind the House Armed Services Committee that he isn’t the first Defense Secretary to speak to how these budgetary restraints have harmed American military readiness. Previous secretaries, Mattis contended, warned Congress of the “erosion of capabilities sequestration would bring.”
It’s only thanks to the efforts of the men and women in America’s military, Mattis explained, that the problems aren’t even worse.
The Defense Secretary called on Congress to consider external factors that must influence budgetary considerations – factors like the fact that the U.S. military has been in a continuous state of war for over sixteen years – the longest period in the nation’s history.
“America’s long war has placed a heavy burden on men and women in uniform and their families,” he said.
The second concurrent factor that Mattis urged Congress to consider was new threats developing around the globe that now call on the U.S. military apparatus to redeploy into new fronts and to be prepared to counter new kinds of threats.
“We must look reality in the eye; Russia and China are seeking veto power over the economic, diplomatic and security decisions on their periphery,” he said. “North Korea’s reckless rhetoric and provocative actions could continue despite United Nations censure and sanctions, while Iran remains the largest long-term challenge to Mideast stability. All the while, terrorist groups murder the innocent and threaten peace in many regions and target us.”
The third factor Mattis believes is integral to understanding the need for an influx of military funding is the shrinking margin of technological superiority the U.S. enjoys over potential threats. While America possessed the most advanced military in the world at the conclusion of the Cold War, recent years have seen other nations making advancements that can contest America’s equipment. China and Russia both have fighters believed to have better dog fighting capabilities than America’s still-developing F-35 program, for instance.
This third element is perhaps the one most affected by uncertain budgets, as innovation requires consistent funding.
“This mandates new investment, innovative approaches and new program starts – something denied under continuing resolutions,” Mattis said.
Before closing, Mattis also placed an emphasis on ensuring the funding is there to ensure the men and women in America’s military are well cared for and compensated for their efforts.
“Talented people are the department’s most valuable asset, but we must constantly balance these requirements against other investments critical to readiness, equipment and modernization to ensure the military is the most capable warfighting force in the world,” he said.
“Investment in military compensation, blended retirement, the Military Health System and family programs are essential to fielding the talent we need to sustain our competitive advantage on the battlefield.”
Image courtesy of Reuters