The following is an excerpt from Rep. William “Mac” Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, in which he explains why congressional infighting over the military’s budget is one of the major contributors to our rapidly degrading force structure:

The Constitution places the responsibility on Congress for setting the size of the U.S. military, ensuring sufficient resources are in place to train and equip it, and funding maintenance programs and replacing worn-out equipment. We have a moral responsibility to ensure that our people are fully prepared and fully supported. While I have no doubt that the U.S. military can defeat any adversary, our collective passivity to our worsening readiness challenge means that our enemies’ defeat will cost more lives, time and materiel.

Investigators will determine the causes of this summer’s fatal Naval collisions, but the heartbreaking truth is that we could see them coming. Start with simple math. In the 1980s, the Navy had around 600 ships; today it has 277. Current ships are more capable than before, but the oceans they patrol have not shrunk, their operational demands have not decreased, and would-be competitors’ capabilities are advancing. That means the Navy must keep its sailors and ships at sea longer to meet its mission requirements, which has consequences. In 2015, an independent investigation by the Government Accountability Office determined that the Navy’s mandate to keep ships afloat in the Pacific was shortchanging crew training and degrading the condition of our ships. Its findings mirror what my committee has learned and been warning about for some time. This is a recipe for disaster in some of the most heavily trafficked and dangerous regions of the world.

These kinds of challenges are not limited to the Navy. Marine Corps aircraft are operating well beyond their intended life, and the corps is straining to find spare parts to keep them in the air. Pilots are struggling to get the minimum training hours just to maintain basic proficiency, while worrying that adversaries get more flying time than they do.

The Army is also taxed to its breaking point. We simply have too few soldiers to keep up with the missions they are ordered to undertake. Only five of 58 brigade combat teams are ready to “fight tonight.” The rest are doing the best they can to keep pace with grueling training and deployment schedules.

The Air Force is hobbled by aging aircraft. The average age of its planes is 27 years old, and it is short thousands of mechanics and pilots. The result is that pilots are not flying as much as they used to or as much as they should.

We have too few planes that can fly, too few ships that can sail and too few soldiers who can deploy.

Source: Washington Post

Why it’s on our radar: We have said often that partisan bickering over defense issues and Congress’ habit of funding the military with “continuing budget resolutions” rather than via the once-normal annual budget process makes it impossible for service chiefs to formulate long-term funding priorities. As such, readiness has suffered, and critical infrastructure unaddressed. Congress has failed to pass a Defense Appropriations bill for eight straight years, forcing the armed services in wartime to operate for months at the start of every fiscal year under restrained spending authority. 

CRs freeze defense spending at prior-year levels, block the start of new programs, delay expiration of old programs, and drive up procurement costs by billions of dollars by dismantling the efficiency of multi-year weapon contracts. 

Plus, Thornberry is right — the U.S. military has many obligations and it simply cannot fulfill them all, safely and effectively, unless two things happen: The military gets bigger or the military’s missions are greatly reduced. The latter isn’t feasible given the rise of China, the reemergence of Russia as a great power, and the volatile Middle East. So the military has to be bigger, which means it will require more funding; it’s not unreasonable for Americans to insist that their tax dollars are spent as efficiently as possible.

The service chiefs have been doing what they can to make their case to lawmakers, only to be ignored. A disaster is looming out there, somewhere.