FPI Bulletin: Congress Must Lead on Rebuilding the U.S. Military

November 5, 2014

Now that Republicans have an opportunity to lead both chambers of Congress, where should they look to make their mark?  Start with the defense budget, which currently faces $1 trillion in cuts at a time when the United States confronts growing threats across the globe. Congress should act swiftly to reverse these cuts, address immediate shortfalls in military resources, and lay the foundation for a comprehensive rebuilding program.

This program has the advantage that it should a bipartisan imperative.  It was, after all, called for by the bipartisan, congressionally chartered National Defense Panel (NDP).  As the NDP noted, increased defense spending will be necessary to execute the Obama administration’s own defense strategy laid out earlier this year: “[U]nder current circumstances, the Department cannot be expected even to carry out its missions effectively.”

The NDP’s crucial recommendation is that Congress and the President should “repeal the Budget Control Act (BCA) immediately.” This means ending sequestration and revoking the BCA’s arbitrary limits on defense spending.

As the NDP explains, the country’s strategy should determine what it spends, not vice versa. Already, the “sequester has precipitated an immediate readiness crisis,” which means that our ships, planes and ground units do not have the equipment and trained personnel necessary to carry out their missions. If this crisis continues unabated, it “will lead to a hollow force.”

The NDP also recommended an approach to guide this effort, calling on the President and Congress to “return as soon as possible to at least the funding baseline proposed in the Gates’ FY 2012 defense budget.”  This would require an estimated investment of just over $100 billion in Fiscal Year 2015, which is the difference between what President Obama has requested ($496 billion) and what Secretary of Defense Robert Gates projected would be necessary before he left office ($598 billion).

Several immediate concerns should focus this increase:

  • In April, the Pentagon submitted an unfunded priorities list that identified more than $12 billion of funding shortfalls for readiness and other short-term needs, such as critical spare parts. This request likely understated actual requirements, since it was formulated before the emergence of multiple crises in the Middle East and a renewed threat from Russia.
  • The unfunded priorities list also includes $24 billion to support modernization and the improvement of military infrastructure. Congress should carefully provide funding for those items that are relevant to the deteriorating security environment that the United States and its allies must now confront.
  • The Pentagon also requested support for the Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative (OGSI), which included $26 billion of defense spending for 2015. Although there is considerable overlap between the OGSI and the unfunded priorities list, it includes requests such as $2.1 billion for classified programs not covered in the latter.
  • Even as it expands air strikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the Pentagon has been forced to pay for the costs of these operations out of hide, and will continue to do so unless it is given a dedicated funding stream for Operation Inherent Resolve.  The President has already explained that “this is going to be a long-term campaign.  Congress should ensure funding not just for operations in 2015, but to prepare the military for what may be a long-term campaign in the region.
  • To deter further acts of aggression by Vladimir Putin, the military will have to reverse recent withdrawals of American forces from Europe. Pentagon officials indicate that they are now revising next year’s budget request to account for this need. Congress should request information on expected requirements and act now rather than waiting another year to begin the rebuilding.
  • As noted by Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, the Pentagon will require an additional $20 billion over five years to pay for an Army of 440,000-450,000 active duty soldiers, a Marine Corps with 182,000 active duty marines and a Navy with 11 aircraft carriers. This funding will be required just to backfill gaps between the force the administration says it is planning on, and the funding it has requested. 

This list of priorities would keep the lights on at the Pentagon, but there is much more work to be done to retain key capabilities like the A-10 Warthog, expand missile defense, and allow the Army and Marine Corps to resume modernizing America’s land power.

Three years ago, while the Budget Control Act was making its way into law, the President announced that “the tide of war is receding.” This perspective may have helped to justify the nearly $1 trillion of cuts contained in the BCA, but it has been demolished by the rise of ISIS, the invasion of Ukraine, and other growing threats. With some $290 billion in cuts having taken effect by the end of the current fiscal year, the onus is now on the Congress to lead the way in repairing the damage done to our military.

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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