How Congress Can Start Rebuilding the Military Within New Budget Framework

COMMENTARY Budget and Spending

How Congress Can Start Rebuilding the Military Within New Budget Framework

Feb 16, 2018

Commentary By

Frederico Bartels

Former Senior Policy Analyst, Defense Budgeting

Connor Ewing

Spring 2018 member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation

The 2018 Index of Military Strength grades the Navy, Air Force, and nuclear platforms as "marginal," and the Army and Marine Corps as "weak." MR1805/Getty Images

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 raised the defense budget caps for both 2018 and 2019. For the coming year, the defense budget will be $647 billion, excluding war funds.

The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2019 will determine how these resources are to be spent and provides a chance to continue reversing the current trend of deteriorating military strength.

The signs of a declining military are made evident in The Heritage Foundation’s Index of U.S. Military Strength. The inaugural edition of The Index in 2015 graded the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and nuclear platforms as marginal, and the Air Force as strong. The military received an overall grade of marginal.

In the latest edition, the Navy, Air Force, and nuclear platforms were graded as marginal, and the Army and Marine Corps as weak. The overall grade was again marginal.

Reversing this declining trend starts with properly allocating resources.

Congress can lead this effort in the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act. It can help the Defense Department increase the lethality of U.S. military force, strengthen international partnerships, and reform the department’s business practices.

Congress should increase, in a fiscally responsible manner, the defense budget cap for fiscal year 2019 to $664 billion. The Heritage Foundation assesses $664 billion to be a sufficient level of funding for fiscal year 2019 to continue rebuilding each of the armed services as well as the nuclear triad.

This will provide necessary resources for each branch to increase procurement, research and development, and fill critical needs, both in people and equipment.

Congress should enable the Army to start solving its single most critical issue: its inability to generate and maintain appropriate numbers of combat-ready brigade combat teams.

Congress needs to work with the Navy to increase its fleet size through accelerated procurement. Consistent and appropriate levels of yearly funding are necessary to make the goal of a 355-ship Navy feasible.

The Marine Corps has been suffering with aging and inadequate quantities of equipment. The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act gives Congress an opportunity to boost the Corps’ modernization programs and speed up the acquisition of desperately needed new equipment and technology.

The Air Force has been plagued with aging platforms and a decreasing number of available pilots, as they continue to endure a high operational tempo. The 2019 bill must include the acceleration of advanced platforms and create incentive programs to retain pilots and maintainers.

The nuclear platforms are old and in need of replacement. The nuclear triad ought to be modernized with advanced delivery systems and nuclear weapons. Congress also needs to continue developing a layered missile defense system to ensure the U.S. is prepared to protect itself from ballistic missiles.

Strengthening alliances is also critical in the work of rebuilding the military. In Europe, Congress should support the European Deterrence Initiative and incentivize forward basing.  Additionally, the United States needs to focus on a “NATO first” policy in Europe and discontinue support for the creation of a European Union army.

On the business-reform front, Congress can work to make the Defense Department more efficient. Even though the department did not request it, they should authorize a new round of base realignment and closures. That alone would save the Pentagon an estimated $2 billion yearly.

In addition, incentivizing the use of performance-based logistics could save $9 billion annually. Congress should also lift the moratorium on private-public competitions. These can provide more cost-effective services for the U.S. government.

It has been made clear over the past several years that the U.S. military has deteriorated in readiness, capacity, and capability. The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act needs to build on the success of 2018 and continue the process of rebuilding the military through strengthening alliances, increasing lethality, and bringing efficient business-oriented reform to the Defense Department.

It took years for the military to reach its current state of deterioration. It will take years to rebuild it.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal