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Stopgap Funding Hurts the Army, Nation

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U.S. Army
Wednesday, April 05, 2017

April 5, 2017

Failure to enact a regular defense budget will hurt the Army and the nation, eroding combat readiness now and in the near future while delaying much needed weapons modernization, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley told Congress.

He also accused lawmakers of “professional malpractice” for continually failing to pass a full defense budget.

The risk is “deploying forces that are not fully ready for combat. We must never allow that to happen,” Milley said. He maintained that another year of uncertain funding levels “will increase risk to the nation and will ultimately result in dead Americans on a future battlefield.”

The Army is still catching up from the 2013 budget crisis and sequestration that disrupted and temporarily reduced funds, he said. “Our adversaries have studied us and are rapidly leveraging available technology while the Army has yet to fully recover from the effects of sequestration in 2013,” he said.

Testifying along with the other service chiefs about the impact of a congressional budget impasse, Milley told the House Armed Services Committee that operating since the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1 with only temporary funding has been disruptive, and that continuing to limp along with stopgap spending instead of a full annual appropriation will force the Army to scale back. The current stopgap spending bill expires at the end of April.

Readiness, he said, “requires consistent long-term balanced and predictable funding,” and he rebuked a lawmaker who suggested that multiple continuing resolutions over the years had become “the new normal.”

“I don't accept it as a new normal,” he said, adding that “failure to pass a budget in my view, as both an American citizen and the chief of staff of the United States Army, constitutes professional malpractice. I think we should pass it and pass the supplemental with it and get on with it. The world is a dangerous place and is becoming more dangerous by the day. Pass the budget.”

One consequence is the Army might not grow as Congress authorized because it will need to spend scarce dollars elsewhere, he said.

“Army force structure—our capacity, or size—will almost certainly contract to free the resources necessary to ensure near-term operational readiness to meet the demands of combatant commanders and fulfill war plan requirements,” Milley said, warning this risks a return to the hollow Army of the 1980s that didn’t have enough soldiers to do the job. “Mandated end strength without commensurate funding will mean only a select few units will be ready for combat.”

The Army could be forced to eliminate some units to fully staff others, he said. “Turbulence associated with decreasing force structure caused by deactivating units will further hurt the readiness of remaining units,” he said.

There will be other effects such as reduced training, a lack of spare parts for combat systems and continued deferral of improvements to infrastructure and facilities.

The world is watching, Milley said, noting the Army has troops committed all over the globe. More than 80 percent of U.S. military forces in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan are soldiers. Yet it’s not just fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan that are of concern. “There are other possible contingencies on the horizon. We saw this just now with North Korea firing a missile that landed in the Sea of Japan,” Milley said, referring to reports of a medium-range ballistic missile fired April 5 from North Korea. “I have no idea, nor does anybody in this room, where that leads, but we need to be ready.”

“Investments made by Russia, China, and other challengers have exposed areas where we no longer retain the overmatch our nation has come to expect,” Milley said. “Time is not our ally.”