Defense Experts: Military Needs Funding Increase for Both Modernization and Readiness
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
WASHINGTON — The 2018 defense budget needs to reflect a global strategy and address modernization, readiness and force structure, a trio of defense experts at Washington think tanks told the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Jan. 24.
Testifying before the committee were Dakota L. Wood, senior research fellow for defense programs at the Heritage Foundation; Thomas G. Mahnken, president and chief executive officer at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments; and Lawrence J. Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Setting the stage for the testimony, SASC Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the Defense Department experienced a 21 percent reduction of its budget from 2010-2014 and that the military was “underfunded, undersized and unready.”
McCain acknowledged that the United States had the largest defense budget in the world by far, but stressed that “we don’t fight wars by comparing budgets.”
He noted that “the harm done to the military over the last eight years will not be reversed quickly” and proposed that the defense budget for 2018 rise to $640 billion — $54 billion above the currently planned level — to begin to restore readiness for the existing threats.
Wood said the 2018 budget would be an important first step in reversing the decline of the military, which he said was “under strength, aging and challenged.”
He said that extensive analysis already has been conducted by the Defense Department and therefore “the military knows what it needs.
“My analysis is that, by and large, they’re on target,” Wood said, who noted stability is important in the acquisition process and that it was necessary to have a “healthy and diverse industrial base.”
The 2018 budget is “an absolute critical opportunity to put our potential adversaries on notice,” he said.
Mahnken asserted that the military needs more resources for both readiness and modernization. He noted the uniqueness of the recent drawdown in that it is the first one to occur “all the while the United States has been at war.”
Mahnken said “the risk calculus has changed” with the return of great-power competition, citing Russia and China as challenging U.S. power in certain theaters. He recommended investing in capabilities in the high end of warfare.
“We need a truly global strategy that also deals with regional challenges,” he said.
He cautioned that the capacity of the Defense Department to effectively and rapidly absorb a large infusion of capital is limited, and that rebuilding the military — such as increasing the Navy’s battle fleet to 340 or 355 ships — will take time and cannot be completed in four or eight years.
Korb said he was not sure Russia was the biggest threat and stressed the need for a strong economy.
“You can’t be strong abroad unless you are strong at home,” he said.
Korb said that even with the existence of the Budget Control Act of 2011, the Defense Department has received $100 billion in budget relief since its enactment and has benefitted from the Overseas Contingency Operation supplemental funds.
“I don’t believe the Defense Department has a resource problem,” he said. “It has a management problem.”
Korb recommended increasing the size of the battle fleet, but stopping procurement of the littoral combat ship, and, like McCain recommended, looking at building smaller, non-nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.