How can we convince the Scrooges on Capitol Hill to end the madness that is sequestration, open their purses and provide some budget relief to the U.S. military? In testimony, op-eds, studies and articles in learned journals, everyone with an ounce of experience and expertise on subjects military has said the same thing: sequestration-level defense budgets will result in a military too small to meet the generally-accepted set of missions or one without the capabilities to prevail in a large-scale, modern conflict and perhaps both. At some point in the not-to-distant future, it will be a military that breaks in the face of too many demands and too few resources.
What if Congress could be shown the consequences of the choices they are making? Although Christmas is more than a month behind us, perhaps I could borrow from a well-loved story of that season, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. What Congress needs is to be visited by a military version of Dickens’ three ghosts: past, present and future.
The ghost of the U.S. military past would take our Scrooges back at least to the eras of hollow forces in the 1970s and mid-1990s. The time travelers would see rank upon rank of Army vehicles awaiting repair, Air Force fighters without fuel or spare parts parked on the ramps and Navy ships tied up to the docks. The Army alone in the 1990s suffered through some $50 billion in unfunded maintenance and modernization that had to be bought back after 9/11 at even greater cost.
The ghost of the U.S. military present could find any number of examples of the impacts on todays military of excessive budget cuts and the folly of sequestration. With Congress in tow, the ghost could go to military installations and units that are still recovering from the effects of the 2013 sequestration cuts whether from essential maintenance foregone, training events that didn’t occur or facility repairs delayed. Or they could visit units experiencing back to back deployment because of the shrinkage of forces. The Air Force and Navy both are smaller today than at any time in the modern history yet busier. In his testimony this week to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Air Force Chief of Staff, General Mark Welsh, underscored the disconnect between proposed defense budgets and the current security situation:
“What have changed are the global operational environment and the demand signals created for the Air Force and other services; the level of effort in Iraq and Syria that is much greater than planned; the continuing requirement for Air Force support in Afghanistan; a resurgent and aggressive Russia and the need for U.S. military presence to assure allies and deter further aggression; an unraveling Libya and Yemen; an increase in counterterrorism activity on the African continent; an increasing domestic terrorism concern that has already manifested itself in Europe; and technological advances by both Russia and China that could dramatically narrow capability gaps between our Air Force and any air force using their new systems.”
But, it is the future presented by the third ghost that is truly terrifying. Dickens ghost of Christmas future shows Scrooge his sad, unlamented death. For the U.S. military, the future could be equally dark and dismal but deadlier. The ghost could first show Congress the consequences of a world without an adequate U.S. military presence. Perhaps it would be a Middle East under the control of Islamic extremists or the Iranian theocracy with oil supplies to the world rationed and Israel wiped off the face of the Earth. Or it could be a Europe in which NATO collapses, Russia easily reabsorbs the former Soviet republics and dictates the continent’s foreign and defense policies.
The failure to field an adequate, capable military results in the collapse of deterrence in a critical region and even defeat in a major conflict. The U.S. no longer enjoys the kind of military superiority it had during the first two decades after the Cold War. The Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jonathan Greenert presented the SASC with his ghost of the Navy’s future:
“Unless naval forces are properly sized, modernized at the right pace, ready to deploy with adequate training and equipment, and capable to respond in the numbers and at the speed required by Combatant Commanders, they will not be able to carry out the Nation’s defense strategy as written. We will be compelled to go to fewer places, and do fewer things. Most importantly, when facing major contingencies, our ability to fight and win will neither be quick nor decisive.”
In Dickens’ story, all three ghosts were working towards a common end. Unfortunately, the tale is a bit more complicated for the U.S. military. Faced with an unrelenting set of current demands, the military is being forced to maintain current readiness at the expense of the future capabilities. With sequestration, the situation will only grow direr. In essence, the ghost of the military present will suck the energy from the ghost of the military future.
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