It will take years — and billions of dollars — to restore readiness levels to what they were before half a decade of budget cuts, the leaders of the Army and Air Force told a congressional committee Wednesday.
Short-term, temporary funding increases will not provide a quick fix , they said.
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, the service chiefs and secretaries said they do not know how much money it will take to reverse the effects of the drawdown, restore readiness levels and modernize equipment to combat emerging threats.
"As far as what this budget request is, it is minimal," said acting Army Secretary Patrick Murphy, addressing the Army's fiscal 2017 request for $125.1 billion. "We are taking high risk as an Army and as a nation ... at this level." Murphy noted that the Army had 45 brigade combat teams five years ago. They have been reduced to 31 at a time when operations tempo is high for soldiers carrying out missions in the Middle East and deterring a resurgent Russia.
One way to mitigate the risk, if incrementally, would be to increase the size of units in the National Guard, double the training they receive, and modernize it, Murphy said.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told the committee the Air Force has 79 fewer fighter squadrons than it had during Operation Desert Storm.
To sustain the forces, the drawdown must slow and equipment must be modernized, the Army and Air Force chiefs agreed. The Army’s targeted end-strength levels remain at 450,000 in the Regular Army, 335,000 in the Army Guard, and 195,000 in the Reserve. .
“Just because you give us money, does not mean we will be at 90 percent [readiness] the next day,” Murphy said. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, responding to Rep. Robert O’Rourke, D-Texas, took issue with the idea that more boots on the ground is the solution.
“My whole issue [with] readiness is, readiness for what?” Milley said. “You can take the [Army] to the bank right now as ready to fight ISIS, al-Qaeda, al-Nusra ... but that’s not what we’re talking about when we’re talking risk. We’re talking about great power war.”
Milley named China, Russia, Iran and North Korea as the larger threats. The U.S. would prevail, for example, in a conflict with Russia, Milley said. It would be "catastrophic for a whole lot people, but we would prevail." The Air Force's $120.4 billion budget request calls for boosting the size of the force, from 311,600 airmen now to 321,000 or even 323,340 service members, by the end of fiscal 2017.
But beyond numbers, modernization is a key concern. In the 25 years since since Desert Storm, airpower has been used non-stop to support the joint services, said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh.
The ability to deter adversaries comes at a price, said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, and aircraft fleets are deteriorating.
It's amazing we have a military at all when you consider the pocket change we spend on the military compared to our major adversaries.oh, wait. This chart shows top 5 countries for military spending for 2016.