Dysfunctional Congress could leave soldiers behind

Dysfunctional Congress could leave soldiers behind
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To arm America’s soldiers with the capabilities they will need to confront China’s increasingly formidable military, the U.S. Army is undertaking its most comprehensive and ambitious reform in decades. Sadly, however, congressional dysfunction now presents a major obstacle to ensuring that America’s soldiers can prevail in a future great power conflict.

Each year, the Army depends on Congress to pass annual defense authorization and appropriation bills before the new fiscal year begins on October 1. With a welcome exception last year, meeting this deadline has become increasingly rare. This year, Congress ignored the Army’s budget request and once again turned to a legislative tool known as a continuing resolution (CR), which provides temporary funding. A CR essentially cuts and pastes last year’s budget into a short-term law, which handcuffs reformers by denying them the authority and funding to initiate new projects.

The current CR expires on November 21.

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Despite the laudable efforts of some members of Congress who want to keep faith with service members, Congress may extend it to February or even to the end of the full fiscal year. Such a move would represent a self-inflicted wound to national security.

The Army has worked overtime to identify dozens of older weapons and systems to cut in order to create budget space for 31 top modernization priorities. As a result, for the fiscal year that started last month, the Army needs Congressional approval and funding for an unusually important array of new programs.

To expeditiously shepherd top modernization programs from concept to fielding, the Army established eight Cross-Functional Teams (CFTs). These include Long-Range Precision Fires; Next-Generation Combat Vehicle; Future Vertical Lift; Network; Assured Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (APNT); Air and Missile Defense; Soldier Lethality; and Synthetic Training Environment.

A survey of each CFT demonstrates why a longer CR — and certainly one for the full fiscal year — would undermine Army modernization and damage U.S. national security.

The Long-Range Precision Fires CFT seeks to provide Army units superior long-range and deep-strike surface-to-surface fires capabilities. The Army views this as its top modernization priority.

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A critical focus for this CFT is the extended-range cannon artillery system. Yet a yearlong CR would delay the delivery of this system to U.S. soldiers. A yearlong CR would also undermine and delay plans related to the precision strike missileland-based hypersonic missile, and strategic long range cannon. Indeed, a yearlong CR would almost certainly prevent the delivery of a strategic fires capability to U.S. soldiers by 2023.

The Next Generation Combat Vehicle CFT seeks to field an optionally manned fighting vehicle. Yet an extended CR would prevent the Army from awarding the prototype contract currently scheduled for the second quarter of FY 2020.

A yearlong CR would prevent Future Vertical Lift CFT from exploiting a 4-year acceleration opportunity associated with the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft. It would also delay efforts to identify who will build the Army’s future attack reconnaissance aircraft.

An extended CR would delay the Network CFT’s integration of defense cyber operations, network operations, and spectrum management capabilities.

And a yearlong CR would delay the APNT CFT’s space integration effort designed to provide soldiers and commanders the ability to send and receive timely and reliable data vital to combat success.

More immediately, a yearlong CR would halt the ongoing fielding of mounted APNT systems to the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. It would also delay by more than a year a follow-on fielding to a rotational armored brigade combat team seeking to deter additional Russian aggression.

A yearlong CR would also damage the Air and Missile Defense CFT’s efforts to address decades of relative neglect when it comes to Army maneuver force air defense. A yearlong CR would cause a 12-month delay in fielding Mobile Short Range Air Defense (M-SHORAD), Integrated Battle Command System (IBCS), and Lower Tier Air and Missile Defense Sensor (LTAMDS) — leaving soldiers more exposed than necessary for an additional year.

The Soldier Lethality CFT is focusing on the next generation squad weapons, night vision goggles, and integrated visual augmentation systems (IVAS) that soldiers will carry into battle. Yet a full year CR would delay the Army’s procurement of the IVAS by six to 12 months.

Finally, even a CR extending only into the fiscal year’s 2nd quarter would delay the Synthetic Training Environment CFT’s efforts to fill a training capability gap for Army aviation and ground units.

These examples highlight how an extended CR would damage and delay Army modernization — increasing the chances that America’s soldiers may find themselves outgunned and outmatched in a future conflict with China.

Members of Congress disagree passionately on a variety of issues, but it is wrong to put the American soldier in the middle of partisan crossfire.

Bradley Bowman is senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (@FDD).