As Congress Rebuilds the Military, Tracking Progress Is Vital

COMMENTARY Defense

As Congress Rebuilds the Military, Tracking Progress Is Vital

Oct 4th, 2018 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Rachel Zissimos

Research Associate, National Security and Defense Studies

Rachel is a Research Associate specializing in National Defense at The Heritage Foundation.
On Thursday, Oct. 4, Heritage published the only non-governmental and only annual assessment of U.S. Military Strength. Photo by U.S. Navy

In recent years, perhaps no one has felt the pinch of budget cuts more than the U.S. military.

Sequestration brought cuts to federal spending across the board—many of which were needed on the domestic side, but some of which did unnecessary damage to our armed forces.

Thanks to recent action from Congress, however, the military has cause for optimism. Congress took the first critical steps to rebuild the military by raising the spending caps in fiscal years 2017 and 2018.

As that rebuilding gets under way, The Heritage Foundation’s Index of U.S. Military Strength will remain a key source for tracking the progress.

On Thursday, The Heritage Foundation launched the fifth edition of its annual Index of U.S. Military Strength. The Index provides a pulse check for Congress and the military services by identifying clear and stable metrics with which to assess the strength of the U.S. military. It enables policymakers to see the effects of budget cuts and appropriations delays, and track trends over time.

For the first time since its initial release, the 2019 Index is not all bad news. Members of Congress fought hard to raise spending caps, and these investments have already begun to show.

  1. Army readiness is on the rise due to increased funding for training and maintenance in fiscal years 2017 and 2018.
     
  2. Additional funding for Navy programs in fiscal year 2018 enabled the service to accelerate procurement of the first ship of the LPD-17 Flight II class, which is set in place to replace the Navy’s LSD-type ships. The Navy had not expected to begin procurement until fiscal year 2020.
     
  3. Budget increases, and hope for continued budget increases, contributed to increased acquisition objectives for the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle for the Marine Corps.

Despite these improvements, the U.S. military remains only “marginally” able to meet the missions demanded of it. Rebuilding the military from its current state will take time, and maintaining a strong national defense will depend on consistency over time and from across the aisle.

Speaking at the Index launch, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa—a combat veteran and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee)—warned:

“The threats of near-peer adversaries once assumed contained have reemerged and the technological intersections are now “clear and present” rather than hypothetical and futuristic. The sheer number of adversaries has increased, and the threat domains are more diverse—air, space, cyber, maritime—and they all matter. This complexity will only continue to increase.”

This year was a victory for defense. Ernst and her colleagues on the Armed Services Committees worked with the White House to pass some of the top priorities for U.S. national defense in the fiscal year 2019 budget. According to Ernst, “This year’s National Defense Authorization Act, for instance, was the earliest defense policy bill signed into law in over four decades.”

Unfortunately, without an imminent threat, it can sometimes be hard to garner and sustain support for defense spending. Just as no one likes regular visits to the dentist, almost anyone would rather spend their time and money elsewhere.

But prevention is far less painful than a filling, or a root canal. By investing consistently in defense, Congress can deter future threats and take steps to keep the U.S. safe, now and into the future.

If the world is going to continue to reap the benefits of a stable U.S.-led world order, America must prioritize its own defense and remember that peace is safeguarded through strength.