- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Pentagon says it should be able to get more planes into the air, more ships on the seas and more equipment to troops in the field if Congress approves the major budget agreement struck by Senate leaders on Wednesday.

Military leaders have said they’re confronting a readiness crisis, punctuated by a series of deadly accidents, that they attributed to funding shortages stemming from the “sequester” budget cuts earlier this decade.

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said a new budget will help him recruit the 15,000 Army and 4,000 Air Force personnel needed to fill “critical” manning shortfalls. He also can avert having to ground aircraft due to a shortage of spare parts.

“America can afford survival,” Mr. Mattis told reporters at the White House. “Today’s congressional action will ensure our military can defend our way of life, preserve the promise of prosperity, and pass on the freedoms you and I enjoy to the next generation.”

“I cannot overstate the negative impact to our troops’ and families’ morale from all this budget uncertainty,” he said.

The deal lifts the spending caps for defense by $80 billion in 2018 and $85 billion in 2019, reversing the strict limits imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

Adding special war funding into the mix puts the discretionary spending levels for defense at $700 billion in 2018 and $716 billion in 2019 — in line with what President Trump has advocated.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, Texas Republican and House Armed Services Committee chairman, said that the U.S. lost 21 service members in 2017 to “hostile action,” and 80 in training accidents.

“We got to get our planes fixed, and we got to make sure that our sailors get the training they need to avoid running into tankers,” Mr. Thornberry said.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John M. Richardson said this month that the shortfalls did contribute to a series of sea accidents last year that resulted in the deaths of about 20 sailors.

“As we increase capacity, as we increase capability, the readiness has to be there,” he said, saying ship maintenance in particular has taken a big hit.

“It really starts to have a toxic effect A ship that cannot go out because it is not maintained is a ship that does not project naval power,” he said.

In October, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, also cited the budget cuts as a root cause of a U.S. operation in Niger in which four U.S. soldiers were ambushed and killed.

“This is a direct result of sequestration,” Mr. McCain told reporters. “It’s our responsibility, and we should be embarrassed, at best.”

Military officials have also complained that the stopgap nature of federal funding in recent months has destroyed their ability to make long-term plans for the nation’s defense.

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer recently told lawmakers that nine recent short-term “continuing resolutions” have cost the Navy literally billions of dollars.

“That’s not lost opportunity; that’s $4 billion in cash in a trash can with lighter fluid, burn it,” Mr. Spencer said. “And that’s the impact that continuing resolutions have, looking back in a totally quantitative basis.”

Others, though, questioned the wisdom of pumping so much additional money into a department that’s been rife with waste and cost overruns, and only recently agreed to its first-ever federal audit after years of delays.

Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, said the levels of defense spending were “far” above what even the president had requested.

“I’m all for supporting our military and I want to make sure they’re funded properly,” he said. “It’s very difficult to have that big an increase in one year and then be able to use it wisely.”

Win Without War, a liberal national security advocacy group, said it’s “outrageous” that leaders agreed to the defense increase without a full accounting of its budget.

“Since the Pentagon can’t even keep track of the money it has, how can Americans trust when it says it can’t possibly function without hundreds of billions more of our tax dollars?” said Stephen Miles, the group’s director.

Mr. Thornberry predicted that the audit would indeed turn up “problems,” and that the money should be spent wisely.

“You still have to have accountability,” he said.

• Carlo Muñoz contributed to this article.

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