April 14, 2021
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), today questioned witnesses at a SASC hearing on the posture of United States European Command and United States Transportation Command.
Witnesses included: General Stephen Lyons, Commander, United States Transportation Command; and General Tod Wolters, Commander, United States European Command, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
Inhofe: General Wolters, I’d just like to ask — I have three questions so I’m going to try to get a round in in this short period time. In the book [the National Defense Strategy (NDS) Commission Report] — and we've all been talking about this now ever since 2018 when this came out — the recommendations said it's going to take three to five percent real annual defense spending growth to implement the NDS, and I really believe that is true. Now the current budget doesn't even keep even, keep up with inflation. This is kind of an “if” question, General Wolters — if the defense budget shrinks and the European Deterrence Initiative gets cut, what would be the impact to your efforts in Europe just off the top, if that happens?
Wolters: Senator, it would slow down our campaign momentum that we've been able to sustain for the last four years in improving our indications and warnings, our command and control, and our readiness.
Inhofe: OK, thank you very much. General Wolters, I also mentioned — you know, I talked about this in my office. It's unfortunate, but a lot of people in this administration are talking about the F-35, and some don't think it's worth the resources, that is detracting from other areas, and I am so thankful that I have the memory of what happened back — actually, it started out when I was in the House of Representatives on the House Armed Services Committee — on the F-22. The F-22 and F-35 are the only two vehicles out there in the fifth generation. So the F-22 was the first one. We started out with the goal that was 700 copies were going to come, and they started whittling down…Ultimately, it got down to, what was it, 187 F-22s, and we knew that was a mistake at that time. The reason I bring that up is that right now we have Russia and China pursuing their own fifth-generation programs like the J-20 and the Su-57. How concerned are you about our great-power competitors’ fifth-generation capabilities and how important is F-35 to deter these threats in Europe?
Wolters: Senator, the F-35 is very important. As I mentioned in my opening comments, our disposition from a military perspective is “strong yet challenged,” and part of that challenge is the evolution of the Su-37 fifth-generation aircraft on behalf of the Russians. We in the US need F-35s in Europe, which will begin to show up in the fall of ‘21 to ensure that we have the competitive advantage necessary to protect our sovereign territory.
Inhofe: All right, that’s good. During last year’s posture hearing, General Lyons testified that the Air Force's divestment of the KC-135 and the KC-10 would put TRANSCOM below its minimum requirements, and that's in light of the fact that the KC-46 didn't come out the way we wanted it to. Yet, it took action from the NDAA from 2021 to reverse the number of those divestments to ensure that TRANSCOM has the necessary refueling capacity to meet the requirements. Now, I would have to say —and you may want to elaborate on this, maybe, for the record — but I look at this and say, what's wrong with our requirements process when Congress has to step in to ensure they have enough tanker aircraft to stay mission ready? I mean, your observation was right that it took us action to make sure that happened in our fiscal year ‘21 NDAA. Anything come to mind in terms of why it’s necessary for us to do this and why this couldn't have been done before our action was necessary?
Lyons: Well, Senator, first, I want to thank you for your support on the issue of aerial refuel, which is such a critical force element, and basically the lifeblood for the joint force in terms of our weapon systems. Last year, you asked the question, what was the implications operationally to the delay of the Boeing KC-46 delivery, and based on the retirement profile there were implications in the active-duty component to respond to day-to-day crisis. I'm happy and pleased to report to you this year that we are in a much better position. We have very good alignment between the Department and between Air Force and TRANSCOM. Air Force has stepped forward with interim capability with the KC-46. We've still got a long way to go, but I am very, very comfortable with where we are with the Air Force. The Air Force has really stepped in.
Inhofe: So you think that that has been corrected.
Lyons: I do sir, it has been.
Inhofe: Thank you very much.