The New York Analysis begins a three part examination of the condition of the U.S. military at the end of the Obama Administration.
Following eight years of reduced budgetary support for the U.S. military, at a time when threats have increased dramatically from Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and terrorists, the ability of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines to defend the nation has reached a near-crisis level.
The warning signs have been apparent for some time. In 2015, General Martin Dempsey, who was serving as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the U.S. military, noted that funding for the armed forces was at the “lower ragged edge” of what was necessary to keep the nation safe. The latest assessments of American strength confirm that the ability of the nation to protect itself is only marginal. Even more troubling, according to another report, is that the infrastructure necessary to rebuild the military to a more acceptable level is itself below par.
At the start of the current year, Senator John McCain displayed consternation at the inadequate budget proposed by President Obama. “…the Senate Armed Services Committee received testimony from the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper who said that he cannot recall a more diverse array of challenges and crises in his more than fifty years of service to the nation…at a time when U.S. military deployments are increasing to confront growing global threats, the President’s budget request is actually less, in real dollars, than what Congress enacted last year…rather than request an increase in defense spending that reflects what our military really needs, the President’s request [will cut] important defense needs – cutting 15,000 current Army soldiers and 4,000 sailors, reducing major modernization programs, and proposing a pay increase for service members much lower than what is needed to compete with private sector wages.”
Contrary to popular misconception, the U.S. defense budget, notes the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, is a relatively small percentage of the federal budget, and a minor part of America’s GDP. “…the FY 2017 Department of Defense budget [prepared as instructed by the Obama White House] … would be 3 percent of GDP, and 14.2 percent of overall federal spending. Overall, the share of defense spending as a percentage of GDP has declined steadily since the end of the Korean War. What makes the Obama drawdown of the Pentagon unique is that, unlike the aftermath of prior wars or the Cold War, the potential threat to the U.S. is rising, not diminishing.”
The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) describes the state of U.S. defenses as “a force-planning construct that is woefully inadequate for the global and everyday demands of wartime and peacetime… Gone is any plan that foresees conflict taking longer than one year in duration or any contingency with a whiff of stability operations, long-term counterinsurgency or counter-insurrection, or nation building of the type seen in Iraq and Afghanistan… After six years of budget cuts and operational shifts, hard choices have in many cases turned into stupid or bad ones. Fewer resources and the lack of bipartisan consensus in favor of a strong defense have forced commanders and planners across services to accept previously unthinkable risks as they pick and choose which portions of the national defense strategy to implement… Unmentioned is that the risk to the force grows each passing year. It is now at crisis levels and promises unnecessarily longer wars, higher numbers of wounded or killed in action, and outright potential for mission failure.”
Defense One notes that it’s not just manpower and hardware that’s the problem. America is losing its lead in technology as well. “The Pentagon is worried that rivals are developing their capabilities faster than the U.S. is rolling out new ones. The edge is shrinking.”
The Heritage Foundation’s report on U.S. military strength presents a worrisome picture of an understrength military. “The common theme across the services and the U.S. nuclear enterprise is one of force degradation resulting from many years of underinvestment, poor execution of modernization programs, and the negative effects of budget sequestration (cuts in funding) on readiness and capacity. While the military has been heavily engaged in operations, primarily in the Middle East but elsewhere as well, since September 11, 2001, experience is both ephemeral and context-sensitive. Valuable combat experience is lost over time as the service members who individually gained experience leave the force, and it maintains direct relevance only for future operations of a similar type (e.g., counterinsurgency operations in Iraq are fundamentally different from major conventional operations against a state like Iran or China). Thus, although the current Joint Force is experienced in some types of operations, it is still aged and shrinking in its capacity for operations.”
Tomorrow: The report breaks down the needs of each armed service branch.