A draft executive order obtained by The Washington Post would call on new Defense Secretary James Mattis to significantly boost the size and strength of America’s military while placing unnecessary programs on the chopping block.
According to the three-page document, President Donald Trump would direct Mattis to immediately carry out a thirty-day “readiness review” in which the head of the Pentagon would be expected to examine the needs of the nation’s military in the face of ISIS and “other forms of Islamic terror,” as well as “near-peer competitors,” in the global theater. Although not addressed directly, “near-peer competitors” is often a term used to indicate China and Russia, as their military might combined with raised tensions with the United States set them apart from most other developed nations.
A second, simultaneous review would also be ordered, in which the Pentagon would need to work hand-in-hand with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to produce a “military readiness emergency budget amendment” that would immediately boost America’s defense funding. Mattis would then be expected to amend and revise the tentative budget proposal for 2018 to coincide with the funding increase.
The order does stipulate that military operations and programs that are not considered “highest priority operations” would be cut, though it doesn’t identify which ones. A reasonable assumption would be that Mattis would be responsible for identifying such programs as a part of his review process. Programs that are identified as priorities for the increases in funding were a modernization of America’s nuclear arsenal, addressing the maintenance delays in existing equipment and hardware, and increasing manpower assigned to areas in need of personnel, such as cyber-warfare, personnel recovery, and expeditionary naval forces.
If signed, the draft order would address concerns relayed by defense officials for years, who have repeatedly requested increases in funding since the sequestration went into effect in 2013, dramatically reducing finances available for the training and equipment necessary to “maintain military readiness.”
The US Navy, for instance, published a study indicating the operational tempo demands the addition of dozens of ships, increasing the fleet to 355 vessels spanning the globe. Trump also stated during his campaign that he intends to field a Naval fleet of at least 350 ships in order to protect American interests in places like the South China Sea, where tensions continue to rise between China and U.S. allies like Taiwan and Japan.
Senior Air Force officials have also indicated that current staffing levels and priorities are not sustainable due to the shift in American combat operations toward air strikes rather than placing boots on the ground. The Marine Corps has requested the ability to make changes to existing funding models to not only increasing infantry units, but also to increase the capabilities of the Corps in other war-fighting venues, such as cyberspace.
Under the executive order, the Army, which has seen the largest depletion of troops under Obama’s presidency, would grow once more until reaching a total troop count of 540,000. It also outlines an increase of about one hundred fighter and attack jet aircraft to bring the total in service to approximately 1,200 and adding twelve new Marine infantry battalions, which equates to thousands of additional Marines.
President Trump repeatedly used the catchphrase “Peace Through Strength” on the campaign trail, and if this order is signed, it would indicate his willingness to pursue just that. Mattis, who would be at the forefront of this dramatic shift in military operations, has been in frequent contact with the new president since assuming control of the Pentagon last Saturday, and this pending executive order could likely have been the topic of conversation throughout.
Mattis stated at his confirmation hearing that he does not believe the American military is currently strong enough to deter its enemies, but it looks like he may get the chance to remedy the issue sooner rather than later.
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