Army leaders said Thursday that if Congress does not end spending caps under sequestration the service will fall behind adversaries in modernization and struggle to meet commitments around the globe.
The Trump administration has submitted a budget request of $639 billion for defense in fiscal 2018. The White House and the Republican-led Congress has pledged to rebuild the U.S. military, which has struggled from years of cuts from sequestration.
A bipartisan budget act in 2015 suspended sequestration for two years, but that expires Sept. 30. Repealing sequestration would require Congress to pass further legislation.
“Army modernization funding declined 74 percent from 2008 thru 2015 as a result of the drawdown from two wars and the imposition of the Budget Control Act caps,” said Rep. Michael Turner R-Ohio, chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces. “As a result, tradeoffs and significant funding reductions were made to critical Army modernization programs.”
Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, deputy chief of staff for Army G-3/5/7 and Lt. Gen. John Murray, deputy chief of staff for Army G-8, testified at the March 16 hearing that the service is behind in many modernization efforts to include air and missile defense, long-range fires, electronic warfare capabilities and active protection systems, or APS, for ground and rotary wing platforms.
“If the Budget Control Act comes back in 2018, as you know we are on a path to upgrade the Abrams and the Bradley; we would have to stop that upgrade program,” Murray said.
Striker lethality upgrades, which are equipping the wheeled armored vehicles with 30mm cannons, “would stop,” Murray said. “We would have to stop the APS development.”
The fiscal 2017 budget will allow the Army to get to 476,000 in the active component, which Anderson characterized as a “high, significant risk” for the service meet the national defense strategy of defeat or deny adversaries, while doing counter-terrorism operations and defend the homeland.
“We’ve got to get bigger or we have got to turn the rheostat down on demand,” Anderson said.
The Army does field the majority of all combatant command missions, so “when you put more things back in Iraq, keep a higher number in Afghanistan, do Syria, do Jordan, do Libya, do Europe, do Korea – the math doesn’t work. You either got to turn something back or you’ve got to grow the capability and capacity to meet the requirements,” Anderson said.
Rep. Niki Tsongas, a Democrat from Massachusetts, asked for explanation of what the Army did with $500 billion in modernization funding it received between 2003 and 2011.
“How did the Army use the funding? How much of that equipment do we still have? Did it all simply get consumed in the war? Do you see a present and future use for it?” Tsongas asked.
Murray said most of that money was “consumed by the counter IED fight,” describing efforts to protect soldiers from improvised explosive devises.
“It was protection for our soldiers, it was [Mine Resistant, Ambushed Protected vehicles], it was up-armoring Humvees … it was better body armor, helmets – that is where most of that money went,” Murray said.
“Now are we still using some of that equipment, we absolutely are,” Murray added, pointing out that the Humvees and MRAPs are still in the inventory.
Over that time period, the Army took risks when it came to maneuverable air defense systems that could keep with brigade combat teams and long range indirect fires,” Murray said.
“We weren’t facing a resurgent Russia at that time; we made the assumption, and it has proved to be a bad assumption a long time ago, that we didn’t really need to worry about air defense, and we didn’t really need to worry about long-range precision fires because we had the best system in the world and it was called the United States Air Force,” Murray said.
“With the capabilities we are seeing right now that the Russians have developed and the Chinese are developing, we have to reinvest some effort. “We haven’t really upgraded those systems in a long time.”
Turner said, “While we cannot repair all of the damage done from sequestration in a single year, we can and should do more than this level of funding would provide,” Turner said.
After the release of the president's budget request on Thursday, the chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees -- Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican -- quickly said that the $54 billion in additional defense funding was not enough and would not provide for a quick enough military buildup to deter threats.
McCain said that the extra money “will not be sufficient to rebuild the military. Such a budget does not represent a 10 percent increase as previously described by the White House, but amounts to a mere 3 percent over” the budget plan that had been proposed by former President Barack Obama.
-- Richard Sisk contributed to this report.