U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, questioned witnesses this morning at a SASC hearing to review the findings and recommendation of the report by the Commission on the National Defense Strategy. Witnesses included Ambassador Eric S. Edelman and Admiral Gary Roughead, USN (Ret.), co-chairs of the Commission on the National Defense Strategy.
Inhofe: Thank you, Admiral, and I thank both of you for emphasizing how this is put together. I know in the case—you, Admiral, were nominated by a Democrat. You, Ambassador, were nominated by a Republican. You wouldn't know it and I think you articulated that very well.
I've not seen one like this before—I think you had both the House and the Senate and Democrats and Republicans on both sides. I want to start off by just covering some of the things—highlighting some of the problems that were pointed out that the vast majority of the American people are not aware of. Those of us up here are.
The commission, and I'm quoting from this right now, "the commission assesses unequivocally that the NDS is not adequately resourced." Further quote, "America is very near the point of strategic insolvency. America's military superiority, which under-rides the global influence and national security has eroded to a dangerous degree.
America's combat edge is diminishing or has disappeared in many key technologies that underpin the U.S. military's superiority. The United States is at risk of being overwhelmed should its military be forced to fight in two or more fronts simultaneously.
You know, some of us who have been around a long time can remember that that used to be our standard. We had that there. We had to drop away from that—that was regretful. So anyway, Ambassador Edelman, we are—your report cites it very clearly that what some of our people have said they said before this committee in terms of what needs to be done. Well, we pointed out that in real dollars, between 2010 and 2015, the amount of money dropped by $200 billion.
It came down from $794 billion to $586 billion—that was the end of 2015. We knew we had to do something. So looking at the challenge that we had, we wanted to get up in 2018 to $700 billion, which we did. In 2019, $716 billion and then in the president's original budget, it's up to $733 billion for the coming—for FY20.
Now, we've already established—and you've stated in the report and elsewhere—we've also heard testimony before this committee, two different times that we need to be looking at it in terms of increasing to about 3 to 5 percent over inflation. Now, this is something we think we need.
I agree that we need it, I think most of the people up here—and I know you two agree with it because it's in your report. And yet, the $733 billion that they are talking about right now is one that is somewhat in danger, there have been several quotes of people saying we don't need the $733 billion.
But stop and think about it. This is not a matter of 3 or 5 percent over inflation. Going from $716 billion to $733 billion is a 2.3 percent increase, which is below inflation. So, I believe that we're being very generous in terms of interpreting this and saying that this $733 is going to have to be looked at as a floor and not a ceiling. I'd like to have each of you comment on that, on that budget. This is going to be something we have to deal with.
Edelman: Chairman Inhofe, I agree with the statement of the problem that you just made. Let me talk for a second, if I could, about how we came to the illustrative finding that 3 to 5 percent was about the right number. And I will tell you that as smoothly as the commission's workings were and as much unanimity as we had on all the issues that are in the report, had I asked the commission to tell us what each member thought the top-line should be, I doubt we could have come to a unanimous agreement on that.
But what we did agree on, was that Chairman Dunford and Secretary Mattis, when they first testified before you and the HASC, not about the new NDS, but back in 2017 when they were still operating under the existing defense strategic guidance from the Obama administration—testified that they believed they needed 3 to 5 percent annual real growth in order to sustain that strategy.
Our judgement as a commission was that the NDS has a higher level of ambition because of its desire to put us in a much better competitive space with Russia and China, in particular, and therefore it stood to reason that 3 to 5 percent, as an illustrative number, was the minimum that would be necessary. Possibly more.
I think we have a wide range of views among us on the commission as to how much more, but that that would be the minimum. And it's for that reason that we were troubled when we talked to folks in the administration, who said that they were planning, and the Department, on flat budgets after FY19.
It seemed to us that it would be very difficult to actually execute that strategy under those kinds of fiscal constraints. So I certainly agree that $733 billion ought to be, as my colleague just said, a floor not a ceiling, as you all go forward in your deliberations.
Inhofe: I appreciate that, and I think that's a longer answer but a very articulate answer. We know what we're going to have to be doing and we have to have the right priorities in our own thinking. There is two other areas, and I think you'll be covering these in responses to other questions.
But one having to do with China and Russia, what we consider to be our peer competitors. I think that's significant. Some people are surprised when they find out some of the things that China and Russia are doing that are actually ahead of us in many areas: ship-building, maintenance, hypersonics—hypersonic is something that they hadn't even started yet but they're already rapidly passing us up in one respect.
Electronic warfare, nuclear triad modernization—that's going to be one of the top things that we're going to be dealing with in this committee. Air defense, artillery—you know both China and Russia have us outranged and outgunned, we've heard the experts testify to that.
So I'm anxious to get your response to some of those things, in response to other people's questions. And then the last thing being, now disequilibrium is not a word that I use, but I'm sure it's real and it's out there and I think you say that there is a disequilibrium between the aging of America's nuclear arsenal and the vigorous modernization programs of our adversaries and I would hope that during the course of your responses, you might articulate some examples of these, because this is something that is very distressing.
I think we have agreed with you that both the Secretaries of Defense in both Republican and the Democrat administrations have identified nuclear deterrents as the Department's number one priority. Senator Reed.