Thursday, February 23, 2017

Admiral James Winnefeld on the Defense Budget: Modernization and Readiness, not Force Structure

Retired Admiral James Winnefeld was the Vice Chairman of the Joint chiefs for much of the time I was General Counsel of the Air Force.  He recently spoke at the AFCEA-USNI conference, and had some pointed things to say about the defense budget.  He expressed great doubt that Congress will really substantially increase in budget, noting that there is  a “yawning gap between the expectations that are being raised regarding increases to our defense budget and the likely real outcomes.”

The most interesting part of his talk, however, was his concern that the military will focus on increased force structure rather than modernization or readiness:

We definitely need more ships,” Winnefeld said, “but we really need ready and modern ships that support a modern warfighting concept…. Yes, quantity has a quality all its own but not if it’s in the wrong place, not if it’s not ready, not if it’s not modern.”
In land warfare, likewise, the Russians are a major threat to Europe, and we need heavy Army forces to deter them, Winnefeld said, but “buying a lot more troops to handle that that are garrisoned in United States congressional districts is not the answer.” (Former European Command chief Philip Breedlove has even suggested the Russian fleet could block reinforcements moving across the Atlantic). Rather than ship units across the sea, Winnefeld said, the Army needs a large stockpile of advanced equipment ready to go in Europe.
“That is going to require a smaller Army because we’ve got to pay for it,” Winnefeld said. “I wouldn’t take a dime away from the Army, but I would change their operational concept in Europe.” Unfortunately, he said, both the Army and its supporters in Congress have a deep emotional commitment to keeping the largest possible force.
Instead of trying to grow larger, Winnefeld argued, the military would do better to try to grow more innovative.  
Read it all here.  When I was at the Air Force, this is exactly the approach we took--focusing our budget authority on readiness for the current fight and modernization of our weapon systems even at the price of a smaller force.  This approach was not well received in Congress.

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