U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), questioned nominees this morning at a SASC nomination hearing to consider Lieutenant General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., USMC to be General and Commander of U.S. Central Command and Lieutenant General Richard D. Clarke, USA to be General and Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.
Inhofe: We are going to be confronted with some difficult decisions. I'd like to kind of set the stage for it. In 2010, the budget was 700--and if we use constant dollars, let's say 2018 dollars—in 2010, the budget was at $794 billion and by 2015, using the constant dollars, it was down to $586 billion. Now that's a drop of 200—actually 24 percent is the best way to look at that. So that's where we found ourselves and consequently we made a decision for FY18 to go up to $700 billion and FY19 up to $716 billion and the strategy or the agreement, I should say.
Both of you have read that commission report and you remember in that report they talk about the necessity of increasing—a minimum increase of 3 to 5 percent over inflation. Now, that's what everyone agreed on, that's what the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed on. That's what the secretary agreed on.
Now, when the president came out with the original budget, it was $733 billion for FY20. Well if you do the math on this thing, you go from $716 billion to $733, the increase is 2.1 percent which is actually below the amount that everyone has been prescribing and saying is going to be necessary to meet the competition. It's a different competition than we've ever had before, at least in my opinion.
I would like to ask both of you to comment on that, if you consider in light of that—the $733 billion—to be a floor as opposed to a ceiling. What do you think, General?
McKenzie: Senator, thank you for the question. The $733 billion figure was arrived at by the department carefully looking at the requirements of the National Defense Strategy. It reflects our best projection of a strategy-informed budget. We recognize that there could have been a higher number, as you said, the 3 to 5 percent. But we also recognize the department exists within a larger government and trades there are just a natural part of the process.
Anything below $733 billion would increase risk and that risk would be manifested across the force. We are in the process now, very carefully across the department, examining the details of what the nature of that risk would be, who would it be opposed upon and the nature of it.
Inhofe: Good, good. General Clark?
Senator, I associate myself with General McKenzie's remarks and would state that the sustained, predictable key is the adequate funding that is required by the department and once looked upon and if confirmed for SOCOM, we have to look at what that means for SOCOM's budget and where that risk would be assumed. Whether it's in readiness, whether or not it is in technologies required or whether it is in what we are doing for it.
Inhofe: And I appreciate that. In my opening statement, we talked about our peer competitors Russia and China and it's difficult for those of us on this side of the table when we are talking to groups outside of government to explain to them that in some cases China and Russia have some things that we don't have. I have a long list of things, including statements on artillery. We are outgunned, out ranged and so we have problems now, I don't think we had before. From SOCOM's perspective, what's the best way, you think, to confront these problems that we have not experienced before?
Clarke: Senator, you talked about the things we don't have. What I would qualify is the things we do have that Russia and China don't have. We do have some asymmetric advantages that we have looked at. You're familiar with our Joint Military Net Assessment. The other thing we have, Senator that those two countries don't have, are allies and partners. In our position around the world, particularly with SOCOM, with our special operations do provide that advantage.
Inhofe: That's good. And General McKenzie—there's been a lot of talk about the S400 and the threat to the United States and coalition forces in Syria. What's your thought about that? Evaluating that and how much of a threat that does pose.
McKenzie: Senator, the S400 if, once activated, will increase the threat to our coalition partners flying over Syria. There will be a manifest difference in the capabilities of the system though depending on whether it's manned by the Syrians or the Russians and we're still working to figure out how that's actually going to be executed.