Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said he spoke about key issues affecting national security with Secretary of Defense nominee Ashton Carter last week as Carter heads into his confirmation hearings this week.
Carter was nominated by President Barack Obama on Dec. 5 to replace Chuck Hagel as the U.S. Secretary of Defense.
Lee currently serves on the Committee on Armed Services and wanted to get some insight into where Carter stands on issues facing Utah and its military, including Hill Air Force Base.
Lee specifically wanted to know about the future of sequestration and its impact on Utah residents. Knowing Carter has dealt with sequestration as Deputy Secretary of Defense in 2013, Lee asked Carter if plans were in place to deal with sequestration before the end of the fiscal year.
“Carter confirmed what he would do to plan for it, and though he can’t divulge it yet, he satisfied me by saying there will be a plan and the Department of Defense won’t be taken by surprise,” said Lee, who voted against the budget control act because it cut a disproportionate amount of military spending.
The two also discussed the need to improve procedures for acquiring and improving new systems, specifically relating to the F-35 program, with Lee commenting he was impressed with Carter’s knowledge of how the program affects Hill AFB.
“When we started talking about the F-35, it became immediately clear that he is aware of the fact that we are going to have 72 F-35s based at Hill AFB, and he understands the importance of making our acquisitions more efficient and having the proper lifecycle management for weapons,” Lee said, indicating that Carter is familiar with these issues, having served as the undersecretary of defense from 2009 to 2011.
“Carter is familiar with these dynamics and understands that when you put in a new system like this, we need to make sure we have enough maintainers in place,” Lee said, referring to the fact that up to 70 percent of lifecycle costs associated with the system comes post-acquisition.
Lee asked Carter about the growing threat of ISIS and the instability in Syria. “He understands this is a high priority to the American people and Congress, and he assured me this is one of the first things he will dig into if he is confirmed,” Lee said.
As the conversation concluded, Lee asked Carter about the National Guard and reserve units in regard to their strategic importance in helping the military be ready for combat. “He seemed to agree with me that they play an important role and commented that he has seen a high degree of preparedness and professionalism in our National Guard and reserve units,” Lee said.