Despite plans to take a hard look at the Defense Department’s forthcoming fiscal year 2020 budget request, the House Armed Services Committee’s (HASC) incoming chairman will ensure that readiness funding is safeguarded to mitigate aviation mishaps and other incidents.

Military readiness is “one thing that I will not look to cut, … absolutely not,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told reporters at a Dec. 12 Defense Writers Group breakfast in Washington, D.C. Instead, he will work with the services to find ways to better focus their mission areas, to ensure that warfighters have access to sufficient training and equipment, he said.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. Photo from Facebook profile.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. Photo from Facebook profile.

“I want to make sure that they get the training and time that they need to be prepared,” Smith said.

There are two approaches to the DoD’s readiness problem, he said. “One is we’ve cut funding, we’ve cut corners [and] we need to shore that up.”

The other way is the Defense Department has imposed “too many missions” on its personnel, he added. “We’ve got too much that we’re trying to do and we don’t have the resources to do it.”

If the Pentagon looked for mission areas that could be reduced and subsequently diminish the required force in that area, the training requirements would be better met, Smith said. “If you expand that mission … that’s when you start to get into” pushing people beyond what they are capable of doing or equipment that is at the end of its lifespan, he added.

The HASC current ranking member was officially nominated Dec. 11 to take the gavel when Democrats take control of the House in January. The Democratic-led committee will focus on finding other areas of defense spending that can be reduced or cut, such as legacy programs that no longer meet modernization requirements, Smith said. He noted there is “growing bipartisan consensus” on the Hill on the need “to modernize where we spend our money in defense.”

“As we transition into cyber warfare and information campaigns and higher tech and unmanned vehicles, what does it make sense to get rid of?” he said.

He anticipates butting heads with his Republican colleagues on HASC, as well as his counterpart on the Senate Armed Services Committee, chairman Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), on the FY ’20 topline for defense spending.

“In a Democratic budget … we are going to want to have other priorities in addition to defense,” he noted. The compromises made over the last two budget cycles to suspend the spending caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act may not be possible in the future, he said.

“That’s going to be the biggest area of what’s going to be hard. What’s the number, and how does that number translate into a broader budget discussion of how we get to some sort of fiscal sanity going forward?” he said.

He countered Pentagon leadership’s talking points that say the U.S. military needs to be prepared to win multiple wars simultaneously, for example with Russia and China, and said the department is being “a little disingenuous” in saying that anything lower than a $733 billion budget topline will significantly increase risk.

“We have got to do all this stuff that frankly, adds up to more money than we possibly have, and what I’m interested in trying to find is a national security strategy that balances risk, to be sure, but also understands that that national security strategy has to fit within a realistic budget framework,” he said. “We can’t do everything.”