Editorial: A State of Military Un-readiness: How Budget Caps Threaten National Security

Jun 30, 2017 Issues: National Security

By Rep. Kay Granger

Originally published in Defense News on June 30, 2017.

Last week, a Russian fighter jet buzzed a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance aircraft participating in NATO exercises in the Baltic Sea. The armed fighter came within a few feet of the U.S. aircraft before breaking off, according to media reports. 

Closer to home, Russian bombers have repeatedly approached U.S. airspace off the coast of Alaska, prompting the Air Force to scramble F-22 Raptor fighter jets from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage to intercept them. 

Russia’s forays into the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone, an area extending 200 miles beyond the state’s sovereign airspace into international airspace and waters, have reached levels not seen since the Cold War, according to North American Aerospace Defense Command officials. 

Russia interference with U.S.-led military efforts in Syria and its seizure of Crimea are brazen examples of an adversary challenging American hegemony around the globe, but they are not isolated events.    

China is rapidly expanding its military power in the South China Sea, and an increasingly belligerent North Korea continues its saber-rattling ballistic missile tests on the Korean Peninsula. Islamic terrorists in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and the Philippines strike Western targets seemingly at will. 

While America’s military remains a potent power on the battlefield, the growing boldness of our adversaries is evidence that our forces no longer provide the overwhelming deterrent they once did. 

Our current state of un-readiness is a self-inflicted wound. Decades of declining budgets, deferred procurement, and nonstop deployments have left our armed forces undermanned, underequipped and undertrained. The indiscriminate cuts to discretionary spending imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) are simply the latest insult.  

Providing for the common defense is the federal government’s primary constitutional obligation. But while we are continuously demanding more of our military personnel, defense funding is on track to hit its lowest level as a share of the economy since the end of World War II. 

National security makes up less than 16 percent of federal spending or just 3.4 percent of our nation’s gross domestic product. Mandatory spending on entitlements and interest payments, on the other hand, accounts for roughly 70 percent of the federal budget, an amount equal to 15 percent of GDP. 

The steady drop in defense spending has resulted in combat readiness issues across the force. Army troop strength has fallen by nearly 100,000 to 470,000. Two-thirds of our 31 brigade combat teams are not considered combat-ready. The Air Force is flying planes that were cutting-edge technology three decades ago. And more than 60 percent of the F/A-18 Super Hornets owned by the Navy and Marines are unable to fly because of maintenance backlogs and a lack of replacement parts. 

Never-ending budget uncertainty has made it almost impossible for the Pentagon to plan strategically or efficiently implement new initiatives and weapon programs. 

The spending bill written by the House defense appropriations panel, which I chair, seeks to reverse this troubling trend by basing funding levels on our national security needs – not the other way around. 

Under the bill, which the full Appropriations Committee approved on Thursday, the Pentagon would receive $658 billion. That amount is $28 billion above President Trump’s budget request in recognition of the urgency of the readiness issues facing our military leaders. 

The higher number – $60 billion more than current year funding – will require congressional action to waive the BCA’s caps on defense spending. 

Fully addressing our modernization needs will require a long-term spending agreement that eliminates the risk of sequestration altogether. As Gen. James Mattis testified in 2015, “No foe in the field can wreck such havoc on our security that mindless sequestration is achieving.” 

For years, our military leaders have said they could accomplish their mission regardless of funding levels. That is no longer the case. Chronic underfunding and uncertainty have starved our armed forces of the investment needed to stay ahead of our adversaries and be able to respond to multiple threats simultaneously. 

All federal dollars are not equal. National security must take precedence. 

The longer we wait to restore balance to the budget process, the greater the eventual cost of modernization. The worst possible outcome would be to leave in place current funding levels and caps, delaying for yet another year the overdue discussion about national spending priorities.  

At a time when our nation faces challenges from Russia, China, North Korea, ISIS and other terrorist organizations, we must prioritize defense funding to provide our troops the tools and training to ensure they have a superior advantage on the battlefield. The last thing we want to do is offer them a fair fight.  

Rep. Kay Granger represents Texas’ 12th District and is chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.