By Congressman Paul Cook
January 23, 2018 - Appeared on RealClearDefense
Editor's Note: This is an opinion article written by Representative Paul Cook, serving California's 8th District.
“No enemy in the field has done more to harm the combat readiness of our military than sequestration.” – Hon. Jim Mattis, Secretary of Defense
This quote strikes at the heart of the damage caused by delaying and underfunding our men and women in the military. Since 2011, the Budget Control Act (BCA), also known as “sequestration,” has arbitrarily underfunded the U.S. military. At the same time, our nation asked the men and women of our Armed Forces to do more around the globe, including missions in areas ravished by flooding and fires. The cumulative effect of this reckless policy is a critically low readiness level that negatively impacts our ability to fight wherever and whenever needed.
In simplified terms, military “readiness” measures our service members’ abilities to operate at levels sufficient to counteract our enemy with the least amount of risk to American lives. We do not choose when, where, who, or in which domain of battle we fight, so our military must be prepared to wage war against any enemy at any time. This kind of readiness requires diverse training that can’t occur during deployments to combat areas. Currently, military readiness is critically low. For example, an infantry unit in Afghanistan receives limited real-world experience for counter-insurgency fighting, but they cannot train for large-scale warfare or more complex fights encompassing air, land, space, and cyber domains. With the sequester in place, funding for battlefield operations comes at the expense of training for other threat scenarios.
The lack of funding for readiness has also caused tremendous reductions in critical personnel and assets. According to testimony, I have heard in House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hearings, the Army has been reduced by 90,000 soldiers, and the Navy has 41 fewer ships and 90,000 fewer sailors since September 11, 2001. Moreover, the Air Force has gone from 134 fighter squadrons in 1991 to 55 fighter squadrons today. With growing threats from adversaries like China, Russia, and North Korea, divesting in military manpower and equipment puts our national security in peril.
To make matters worse, the military is struggling to maintain equipment currently in its arsenal. Nearly two-thirds of the Navy’s aging fleet of F/A-18 fighter jets were grounded last year following a spike in deadly crashes. The Navy was also forced to ground its primary trainer, the T-45 Goshawk, after pilots complained of oxygen system failures in the cockpit. It’s clear that Congress must take decisive action.
My colleagues and I on HASC have assembled a defense budget bill that begins the process of rebuilding our military. There is no serious argument against bringing readiness up to the levels that our troops deserve and our nation needs. The only reason this bill is not current law and the funding is not available to the military is because some in Congress want to use this critical defense bill as leverage to increase unrelated domestic spending.
Every passing day of reduced military funding levels creates an ever-increasing risk for our men and women on the front lines. The defense bill should not be a political bargaining chip. A full-year defense bill must be passed as soon as possible to start ensuring the effectiveness and safety of our service member.