Restoring military readiness to better protect Americans

Earlier this year, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said, “In my 50-plus years in the intelligence business, I cannot recall a more diverse array of challenges and crises that we confront as we do today.”

We have witnessed a proliferation in Islamist terrorist groups and safe havens, a reemergence of Russia and China as belligerent near-peer military competitors and an escalating threat from the unpredictable and dangerous North Korean regime.

Meanwhile, Iran — the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, which remains unapologetically hostile to the United States and our interests — is pocketing billions of dollars in benefits from the Iran deal, supporting Hezbollah and advancing its ballistic missile program, which threatens our forward deployed troops, our allies like Israel and ultimately our homeland.

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While the threats to Americans and our interests have grown in recent years, the readiness of our military has declined. This has created a deeply concerning and growing gap between the military our national security interests require and the military that we have, making Americans less safe and conflict more likely.

Insufficient resources have forced our military to sacrifice the preparedness of non-deployed forces, strategic depth, full spectrum readiness, capacity and modernization in order to support units preparing to deploy next.

For example, less than one-third of Army forces are at acceptable levels of readiness, and the Air Force says it now has the “smallest, oldest and least ready forces” in its history.

As the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, recently warned, these shortfalls “may increase casualties, lengthen response timelines and extend the duration of a future conflict.”

The root cause of this deterioration in readiness is the failure of the federal government to fulfill its preeminent constitutional responsibility to “provide for the common defense” by providing sufficient resources to that end.

Some will respond by asserting that we spend too much on defense and that defense is the primary source of our nation’s annual budget deficit and national debt. But that is simply not the case.

The United States is spending at or near post-World War II lows on defense as measured by a percentage of federal spending and gross domestic product (GDP). From 1946 to 2015, the United States spent an average of more than 32 percent of its federal spending and 6 percent of its GDP on defense. In comparison, the United States spent only 16 percent of its federal spending and 3 percent of its GDP in 2015 on national defense. In fact, based on current projections, the U.S. will be spending more on interest payments on the debt in 2022 than it will on national defense.

Others suggest that cutting waste in the Pentagon will provide the necessary resources. While I have been as aggressive as anyone in pushing for a Department of Defense audit and attacking wasteful programs, those who suggest the solution to this funding shortfall can be achieved solely through more rigorous reforms at the Pentagon do not appreciate the scale of the funding shortfall.

So as we contemplate the military we will need in the future, we should start with a simple premise that is often espoused but rarely followed: Defensebudgets must be based on an objective assessment of the threats to our national security interests — not sequestration and artificial budget caps that are detached from reality.

That is why in 2011, I voted against the indiscriminate across-the-board cuts that have harmed our military, and I will continue to fight to eliminate sequestration to ensure the United States maintains the military necessary to deter — and if necessary fight and win — our nation’s wars.


Ayotte has been a member of the Senate for the state of New Hampshire since 2011. She serves on the Senate Armed Services; Budget; Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; and Small Business and Entrepreneurship committees.