The Pentagon is facing “unacceptable trades” on questions of military readiness, forced to wage war with an increasingly aging arsenal unable to keep pace with modern-day threats, a slew of top military leaders told Congress.
The hearing, including top representatives of all the services, provided an early gauge of the receptiveness of Congress to the Trump administration’s call for a major upgrade in the defense budget.
The across-the-board funding cuts to military coffers that resulted under the Obama administration’s Budget Control Act, known as sequestration, have shrunk the number of fighters, bombers, tanks and warships in the American arsenal to their lowest point since World War II, the service’s vice chiefs said Tuesday.
“[America’s] advantage over potential adversaries is shrinking” as a result of sequestration, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson told the House Armed Services Committee.
Gen. Wilson, alongside Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel Allyn, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Moran and Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Glenn Walters, painted similar portrayals of the military’s dire straits.
Gen. Allyn told lawmakers that only three of the service’s 50 brigade combat teams have enough men and functional equipment to deploy immediately if needed, adding that could become the norm if sequestration is kept in place.
The Obama-era budget cuts “increase the risk of sending undertrained and poorly equipped soldiers into harm’s way,” Gen. Allyn said. “[It’s] a preventable risk our nation must not accept.”
Adm. Moran testified that as the Navy finds itself engaged more frequently in more of the world’s oceans, from the Strait of Hormuz to the South China Sea, his officers are operating with the smallest naval fleet in nearly 100 years.
“For years, we’ve all learned to live with less and less. We have certainly learned to execute our budget efficiently,” Adm. Moran said.
The military leaders are purportedly shopping a $30 billion proposal on Capitol Hill to increase the already approved fiscal 2017 defense budget. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, Texas Republican, told reporters this week that he would press to inject over half of that amount via supplemental funding for the Pentagon.
Mr. Thornberry and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, Arizona Republican, have proposed a base military budget of $640 billion in 2018 — a nearly $100 billion increase over the amount authorized for the 2017 fiscal year.
President Trump has already vowed to reverse the effects of sequestration while increasing the size of the military to levels not seen since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
Mr. Trump called for a restoration of force levels across the services to pre-sequestration numbers, including a 540,000-member army, backed by a 350-ship Navy and an Air Force of 1,200 aircraft.
Under the Trump plan, the Navy and Air Force’s ranks would swell to roughly 100,000 sailors and airmen combined, while troop numbers for the Army would put the ground service at the same force level at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the White House’s plan to boost the Marine Corps to 36 infantry battalions — or upward of 200,000 Marines — would put the service’s total force at levels not seen since Vietnam.
During a speech at U.S. Central Command headquarters Monday, Mr. Trump doubled down on those promises, pledging to “load up” the services’ arsenals in the coming years.
“You’ve been lacking a little equipment; we’re going to load it up. You’re going to get a lot of equipment,” Mr. Trump said at command headquarters in Tampa, Florida.