U.S. military readiness crisis: A call to action for Congress
In recent years, Congress has received repeated warnings from senior military officials across every service, testifying to the readiness crisis facing our military. Taken together, their statements are staggering.
The National Defense Panel, a bipartisan group of experts, has warned that unless we change course, our military is at a high risk of not being able to fully guarantee our national security. The Commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific said we risk becoming a regional rather than a global power. The Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force cautioned that less than 50 percent of the Air Force’s fighter and bomber force is equipped to decisively win a highly contested fight against a near peer such as Russia or China. Based on current readiness levels, the Army can only accomplish the missions we’ve given it at a high military risk.
This crisis comes at time when our already strained forces face increasing threats around the world. Russian aggression towards U.S. allies and interests continues unabated. China is engaged in an ambitious military buildup to bolster its provocative activities in the South China Sea and continues invest in unconventional warfare capabilities, including cyber. North Korean provocations increase, Iran remains within reach of developing nuclear weapons, and ISIL and its sympathizers are committing unspeakable acts across the Middle East and around the globe.
With characteristic resourcefulness and grit, our forces fight to maintain a level of readiness despite funding shortfalls. Last year, reports broke of U.S. Marines scrounging for fighter jet parts at a museum. Due to increased operations and a shortage of funding, maintenance, and parts, fewer than half of the Marine Corps aircraft are ready to fly at any given time. In 2015, Marine Corps aviation deaths hit a five-year high as aircraft failed or pilots made mistakes due to inadequate training hours. Additionally, our Navy fleet is among the smallest since WWI, which means longer deployments, compounding stress on our ships, our sailors, and their families. Average deployment time has gone up roughly 30 percent in recent years, according to the Navy.
While the military is managing to carry out its current missions – such as counter-ISIL operations – it may not be ready to execute simultaneous operations should they become required, like responding to Russian aggression or Chinese provocation. Less immediately visible but equally consequential are the long-term trade-offs incurred when our military lacks sufficient resources to prepare for longer-term challenges. This means current readiness comes at the expense of future readiness in the forms of modernization, force end-strength, and the new technologies that could provide key advantages in the next generation of warfare. In short, insufficient funding doesn’t just undermine our warfighters’ ability to respond to conflict around the globe today, it also robs them of critical investments in the capabilities they will need tomorrow.
In the coming days, the actions taken – or not taken — to address our military’s readiness crisis will be a defining issue for leadership in both chambers of Congress as well as our new administration. The first order of the day is to ensure the Pentagon is not forced to plan its budget under the unpredictability of another continuing resolution (CR). The House already passed the defense appropriations bill for the rest of this fiscal year with a resoundingly bipartisan vote, but the Senate has yet to take it up. New DOD reports to Congress detail the outsized impacts another CR would have on the military: halting training exercises, grounding aircraft squadrons, and pausing maintenance and modernization of critical equipment. This week, the services’ top brass is scheduled to publicly present the findings to the House Armed Services Committee.
Congressional leaders are also preparing the FY2018 national defense budget, which must not only reverse sequestration’s crippling cuts but also lift defense spending substantially above the President’s budget request in order to begin rebuilding the military in earnest. We cannot continue to equip our military to defeat the threats of the previous decade, without making long-term investments in the technologies and capabilities that will prove critical to protecting our future national security.
The men and women who serve in the U.S. military are the best in the world. They will serve with courage and commitment, wherever and whenever they are called. But the United States cannot continue to task its armed forces with deterring threats to our national security and American interests around the globe without equipping them with the capabilities they need to effectively manage and defuse those threats. Preparedness and deterrence cost less and save lives. For too long, we have been governing – and budgeting – by crisis instead of strategy. This year, Congress has a renewed opportunity to re-chart our course and fully resource our military — and an obligation to the men and women we send to the frontlines to do so without delay.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.