Military leaders warn of bleak future with short-term defense funding

Military leaders warn of bleak future with short-term defense funding
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The Pentagon’s service chiefs on Wednesday spoke of a dire military future that included unnecessary soldier casualties and limited training should Congress pass a stopgap spending measure.

Speaking before the House Armed Services Committee on the effects of a continuing resolution (CR), Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said such a measure will “increase risk to the nation and ultimately result in dead Americans on a future battlefield.”

The Pentagon is currently funded under a short-term CR that expires April 28. Congress has less than a week left in Washington to finalize a budget that will last through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, or face a government shutdown.

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A CR — which keeps last year’s funding levels in place — would be a something of a solution, but defense hawks including House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and his Senate counterpart, John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump's dangerous Guantánamo fixation will fuel fire for terrorists Tech beefs up lobbying amid Russia scrutiny Ad encourages GOP senator to vote 'no' on tax bill MORE (R-Ariz.), have said they would oppose passing a short-term bill for any amount of time.

Added to the issue is the White House’s request for $30 billion in additional defense funding for this fiscal year, which congressional leaders dislike because it cuts into State Department funds and violates automatic spending caps in the Budget Control Act.

Milley pushed lawmakers heavily for a stable, predictable budget, calling an inability to do so “constitutional federal malpractice.” He likened the last eight years of unpredictable funding and global conflicts to smoking cigarettes.

“One cigarette is not going to kill you, but if you do that for eight, 10, 20 years, you’re eventually going to have lung cancer,” Milley said.

“We’ve reduced the Army by 80,000 or 90,000 in the last eight years ... and oh, by the way, it’s just not fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are other potential contingencies on the horizon — we saw that yesterday morning, the launching of a missile from North Korea. I have no idea ... where all that leads. We must be ready.”

The military leaders also pushed for the $30 billion supplemental in addition to avoiding a CR.

“Pass the supplemental ... and get on with it. The world is dangerous; it’s becoming more dangerous by the day,” Milley urged.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein spoke of a severe active-duty fighter pilot shortage and said by the end of the year, the service would be short 1,000 pilots.

“It takes approximately 10 years and $10 million to train a fighter pilot,” Goldfein said. “One thousand short equates to $10 billion of capitol investment that walked out the door and will take us 10 years to replace that experience.”

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said in the eight years of budget worry, China has completely modernized its naval fleet and threats from other competitors like Iran, Russia and North Korea have grown.

“The relative balance has shifted,” Richardson said.

Each military leader also detailed numerous problems that will arise should a CR happen.

Milley said the Army would have readiness, artillery, aviation and training resource gaps and would need to stop most training when money runs out in July.

The Air Force would be unable to grow its force, have to defer bonus repayments and put a stop to all modernization efforts, Richardson said.

The Navy would need to find $4.4 billion in its budget for planned ship purchases — causing late deliveries — and would need to come up with more than $500 million for sailor pay raises and housing allowances.

The Marine Corps would also be hit with delayed ship construction, flight operations, missiles procurement and modernization and be unable to participate in numerous large-scale exercises.

Rep. Joe WilsonJoe WilsonTillerson’s No. 2 faces questions over State cyber closure GOP worries as state Dems outperform in special elections Navy official: Budget, readiness issues led to ship collisions MORE (R-S.C.) said the hearing was the most alarming he had ever been to.  

“We actually had the chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Milley, announce that the budget instability could lead to military casualties,” he told reporters afterward. “That’s life and death. I’ve never been to a hearing where such a clear alarm was raised.”

Thornberry after the hearing repeated his pledge not to approve a long-term continuing resolution for the military and said he was hopeful Congress will pass a budget with the supplemental on top, calling it the easiest option. He acknowledged, however, that “it doesn’t fix what needs to be fixed.”

“I think you heard [the military chiefs] say today that [the supplemental funding] helps keep the problems from getting worse,” Thornberry said. “It does not really turn things around as far as the readiness and so forth.”