As Americans, we are facing a grave threat — one that goes beyond North Korea’s missile tests, Russian aggression in Eastern Europe and the rise of ISIS. Despite these dangerous and challenging national security threats, the readiness crisis is the most profound threat facing our nation today. Our armed forces are smaller than the days of the “hollow force” of the 1970s, and readiness, in the form of personnel, training and equipment, have been degraded to the breaking point. All the while, we have witnessed an uptick in training and operational accidents across the armed forces.
While the risks posed by the readiness crisis are significant, Congress is already taking steps to correct the shortfalls. This week, the Senate will consider the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), legislation that will go a long way to closing the readiness gap. Every amendment considered for the NDAA this year should focus on increasing readiness across the services. We owe it to our troops and our nation — nothing less is acceptable.
That’s why it is disappointing — and dangerous — to consider an amendment that would authorize a base realignment and closure round, better known as BRAC. I, along with many of my colleagues, successfully ensured during the Senate Armed Services Committee’s consideration of the NDAA that it included a provision prohibiting a BRAC round. Unfortunately, an amendment is pending that would enable a new BRAC round in 2019 and, at the same time, remove the nonpartisan commission that allows both local defense communities and Congress input into the BRAC process.
The Pentagon claims that a BRAC round would save money and would allow the military to reinvest that money into critical readiness shortfalls. Before the most recent BRAC round in 2005, we heard these same arguments from the Pentagon — that a BRAC would save money, and would allow the military to increase efficiency. With 22 major base closings and 33 major realignments, the 2005 BRAC round was predicted to save $35.6 billion over 20 years with costs of $21 billion.
The reality was far different — the 2005 BRAC round cost roughly $35.1 billion and is only expected to save $9.9 billion over 20 years. Clearly, base closure rounds cost the American taxpayers an exorbitant amount of money upfront and take years to recoup the initial investment. Readiness can’t wait, and our enemies around the world won’t, either.
With the history of previous BRAC Commissions’ inconsistencies between expected and actual costs, there is no certainty that any proposed base closures or realignments would be economically viable in such a critical time. We are in a point of uncertainty that makes it irresponsible to expend billions of dollars downsizing our armed services when we are currently facing some of the most volatile, unpredictable and dangerous military threats that America has ever seen.
We must also consider the possibility that we will soon require the capacity that is presently considered excess if the current military threats materialize in a manner that would encourage the expansion of our armed services. The high cost of a BRAC round would divert resources away from addressing immediate, tangible threats.
Just this month, North Korea tested what is believed to be a hydrogen bomb, its most powerful nuclear weapon tested to date, estimated to be nearly seven times as powerful as the bomb detonated over Hiroshima. This came on the heels of North Korea’s first successful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests this summer. If fired on a standard trajectory, experts believe the ICBMs North Korea tested could have reached the United States. We must stay focused on countering this very real threat to our nation — not on shrinking the infrastructure that supports our nation’s defense.
A BRAC round now would also shortchange a response to immediate readiness needs. Over the last 90 days, we have witnessed a spike in accidents across the military services, especially in the form of naval and aviation mishaps. While these accidents are still under investigations to determine the cause, it is hard not to correlate them with a readiness decline. Our forces are smaller than ever before, our equipment is aging, and our base infrastructure requires critical maintenance and upgrades. Senior officers from across every branch of our military have testified before the Readiness Subcommittee, painting a sobering assessment — especially when considering the gravity of the threats we face around the world, and especially on the Korean peninsula. We should be allocating sufficient funding to ensure that our military has the training and resources they need to complete the mission — not directing resources to satisfying the steep up-front cost of a BRAC round.
I hope my colleagues in the Senate will join me in rejecting this amendment this week. However well-intentioned, now is not the time for a shortsighted BRAC round. In a time of dangerous uncertainty, the NDAA’s first priority must be to rebuild our force and improve readiness to combat threats from around the world.
James Inhofe is a Republican member of the U.S. Senate from Oklahoma.