Wicker calls for renewed focus on military

Published 7:00 am Thursday, May 18, 2017

By U.S. Senator Roger Wicker

When American security is threatened, our military has to be ready.  After North Korea’s rogue missile tests, all eyes were on the USS Carl Vinson. 

Following the use of chemical weapons by Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, the USS Porter and USS Ross were ready to carry out a retaliatory strike. 

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In the fight against the Islamic State, our troops continue to supply critical assistance to local forces, helping to curb a tide of instability and violence in the Middle East.

These endless trouble spots make an important point: The responsiveness of the U.S. military is a powerful asset in a world of complicated challenges.  The mere presence of a U.S. aircraft carrier – representing 4.5 acres of U.S. sovereignty, no matter its location – can reassure our allies and project force when threats arise.

Forces Reduced During Obama Era

Keeping our military prepared to fight and win – on and under the sea, on land, and in the air, not to mention in cyberspace and outer space – does not happen overnight.  It takes years of planning, prudent leadership, and stable and predictable funding from Congress.  Indeed, providing for defense funding is a core constitutional duty of the legislative branch.

The recent support by the Trump Administration and Congress for $21 billion in additional defense funding is a smart investment in the safety of our troops and in our long-term national security interests.

But it is also only a start in reversing the damage caused by years of defense cuts.  The strain these cuts have put on our military has had a compounding effect, forcing fewer troops to cover more operations with old equipment. 

The wear and tear on this equipment requires frequent and costly maintenance, diverting funds from efforts to modernize.

During the Obama Administration, our naval fleet reached its smallest size since World War I.  The number of soldiers in the Army was reduced to levels not seen since before World War II, and the Air Force has never been smaller. 

In terms of readiness, these drawdowns have consequences that linger far beyond one administration.  Today, our Air Force faces a shortfall of 1,500 pilots, and only a fraction of our Army brigades are combat-ready. 

An End to the ‘Downward Readiness Spiral’

Earlier this year, Admiral William F. Moran, the vice chief of naval operations, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the need for modernization. 

He described the continuous operational demands and limited time for upgrades as part of a “downward readiness spiral.”  Indeed, the Navy’s maintenance backlog has increased by 13 percent.

I am committed to reversing this downward spiral.  As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I work with my colleagues each year to put together a defense authorization bill that addresses our military priorities and outlines the resources that are necessary to meet them. 

As chairman of the Subcommittee on Seapower, I am particularly involved in ensuring that the men and women of our Navy and Marine Corps are equipped to face today’s emerging threats.

The increase in defense funding recently passed by Congress is a small but positive sign that the Administration and lawmakers are willing to make the tough decisions needed to resolve gaps in our military’s readiness. 

The focus should be on making investments that are cost-effective for taxpayers and beneficial to warfighters.