The Army’s plan to focus funding on preparing for a war with potential adversaries like Russia could leave soldiers with outdated weapons and gear for a decade, according to senior Army officials who have begun defending the spending plan on Capitol Hill.
Acting Secretary of the Army Patrick Murphy and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, their first opportunity to defend their 2017 budget request that is $1.4 billion lower than the enacted funding the service has in the current fiscal year.
“As a result of our current fiscal uncertainty, the Army prioritizes today’s readiness and accepts
risk in modernization, infrastructure maintenance, and sustained end strength in the mid and long term,” the pair said in joint written statement to the committee. “We request the support of Congress to fund Army readiness at sufficient levels to meet current demands, build readiness for contingencies, and understand the mid and long term risks.”
Pushing readiness in the near term will begin to take its toll in the next decade, when in the 10 years after 2020, the Army is unable to provide the entire force with modern equipment, Milley and Murphy testified.
“From 2020 to 2029, the Army will not have the resources to equip and sustain the entire force with the most modern equipment… The Army will invest in programs with the highest operational return and we build new only by exception. We will delay procurement of our next generation platforms and accept risk to mission in the mid-term.”
The Army’s base budget has stagnated at $125 billion beginning in fiscal 2013. Since then procurement has largely paid bills for generating and preserving readiness of a war-weary and shrinking force, according to James McAleese, founder of McAleese and Associates, a government contracts consulting and legal firm. That has driven billions into overseas contingency operations (OCO) funding, which is immune from budget caps.
Milley has made readiness the top priority of his tenure as chief, an initiative he underscored by increasing the service’s operations and maintenance account by $3.3 billion, or 5 percent, in his first budget submission. His budget pays for an active force of 460,000 soldiers and another 520,000 in the two reserve components.
The problem, given emerging threats from Russia, North Korea, Islamic State militants and China, among others, is that a woefully small portion of that number are ready to fight at any one time and the Army does not have the resources to adequately equip the ones who are ready.
“Only one-third of Army forces are at acceptable combat readiness levels, a byproduct of near continuous deployments into Iraq and Afghanistan,” Milley testified.
The current goal is to achieve two-thirds combat readiness for “global contingencies” by 2023, he said. The plan calls for “sustainable readiness” that focuses on manning, training and equipping units for a full spectrum of potential fights within current budget projections.
Procurement was singled out as the bill payer for readiness, receiving a $1.3 billion, or 7 percent, cut in the fiscal 2017 submission. Aircraft procurement bore the brunt, falling by $2.1 billion, more than the overall acquisition budget decrease. The 35 percent reduction was a “major bloodbath,” said McAleese.
Another $270 million was cut from military construction, where Milley and Murphy are asking Congress for relief from maintaining excess facilities.The Army keeps 154 permanent installations and more than 1,100 National Guard and Reserve centers. Excess and underused facilities cost the service about $500 million a year, they said.
“Smaller investments in Army installations without the ability to reduce excess infrastructure jeopardizes our ability to ensure long-term readiness,” they testified. “To continue the efficient use of resources, the Army requests congressional authority to consolidate or close excess infrastructure.”