This week, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke on the Senate floor, presenting his fourth Common Sense for the Common Defense floor speech as part of his ongoing series designed to highlight key national security policies.
Inhofe talked about eroding advantage over our adversaries, specifically in the area of aviation and artillery.
As prepared for delivery:
In my first Common Sense for Common Defense floor speech, I highlighted the fact that our competitors have increased their own military spending and focused on modernization — we must do the same.
Our men and women in uniform are outstanding representations of what is right in America. Their drive and determination is the reason the United States of America has the honor of being the leader of the free world.
That honor, however, is the product of hard work, not birthright. We earned it. But over the last ten years our military supremacy has slowly degraded. General Dunford has acknowledged that our qualitative and quantitative advantage has eroded.
Our Army BCTs and Aviation brigades hit unprecedented lows in readiness, our F-18s were not operational, and the Navy had unsustainable backlogs in ship maintenance. Meanwhile, constant dollar defense spending dropped $200 billion from 2010 to 2015. In 2010 - $794 billion. In 2015- $586 billion. In percentage terms, this is the fastest drawdown since the years following the Korean War. That's how serious this is.
We owe our men and women the resources necessary to execute the missions we task them to complete. The FY18 and FY19 budgets have begun to correct our readiness crisis, but we are a long way from climbing out of the hole we dug over the past ten years.
We didn’t start out in this hole. As you can see from this slide, at the end of the Cold War we had about the same number of fighter aircraft as our adversaries of the time – Russia and China.
While we had the same amount, we were still superior because our aircraft were the newest and most capable in the world.
As demonstrated on the chart, our fighter force reduced nearly 50 percent in total numbers over the last 25 years, and we have failed to modernize.
The Secretary of the Air Force, Heather Wilson, has said “Our Air Force is too small to do what the nation asks.”
Not only is it too small, but the average age of our Air Force aircraft is 28 years old – how many of us have a car that old?
In 1990, we bought over 500 aircraft per year, but recently that number has been reduced to around 50 per year.
We must do better because at this rate, it will take us over 40 years to modernize a fleet that is already too old and too small.
Meanwhile, our adversaries have transformed their aircraft fleets with modernization programs and increased their overall size and capabilities.
In fact, Chinese and Russian Air Forces have recapitalized and are now or soon will be fielding aircraft with capability matching our own, but at a much faster rate.
According to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen Goldfein, if we take no action, both the Russian and Chinese forces will be bigger and more technologically advanced than us.
This problem is not just in the Air Force: the Army, likewise, has gotten smaller and less capable in the same decade.
Specifically, in terms of long range fires – defined as tubed artillery and tactical missiles – you can see the same trend.
At the end of the Cold War, the Russians and Chinese had vastly superior numbers of artillery, but we were in a position to counter their volume because our equipment was so much better.
Again, though, you can see that over the last 25 years we have rested on that advantage.
While our adversaries have also reduced the amount of long range fires over the same period of time, they have significantly modernized their force.
We are now in a situation where both of these countries not only have more artillery than us, theirs is better than ours.
Gen. Mark Milley, the Army Chief of Staff, said: ‘‘In terms of artillery, the Army is outgunned and outranged by our adversaries.’’
One can look at the devastating results from Russia’s action against the Ukrainian Army in 2014, made possible through modernized artillery systems.
Recognizing the problem is normally the first step in developing an acceptable solution.
The FY18 & FY19 budgets have started us on a path to recovery in our readiness rates and restarted our deferred modernization.
The bipartisan National Defense Strategy Commission, former Defense Secretary Mattis, and General Dunford have all called for fully implementing the commission’s recommendations, which would require an additional 3-5 percent real growth — closer to the $750 billion the president has discussed.
We must not shortchange our national security. We must fully implement the National Defense Strategy in a timely manner by avoiding continuing resolutions and eliminating the threat of sequestration.
Otherwise, the already widening gap with the Russians and Chinese will only grow wider, faster.
We need to fix this –this is common sense for our common defense.