WASHINGTON, D.C. — Internal reforms are just as important to the Defense Department as an increase to its budget, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee on March 4.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told the subcommittee that the department requires the flexibility to trim its excess infrastructure; re-examine its pay, benefits and retirement systems; and retire unneeded weapon systems in this fiscally constrained time.
All members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he said, are convinced that this flexibility is crucial to the long-term health of the force.
“It’s been difficult to communicate to our men and women serving why we have to do it,” Dempsey said. “But we’ve taken that responsibility on and have made several recommendations to you on internal reforms and we certainly need both the topline (budget) increase that the president has provided, but just as importantly, the reforms that we’ve requested.”
If Congress does not approve the president’s fiscal year 2016 budget request — which is $33 billion above sequester caps — or if Congress does not give the department flexibility, “we’ll have to change our strategy,” the chairman said.
The strategy addresses the threats of today and puts in place the force of the future, he said.
“And if we can’t execute it, what I’ll be saying to you is that we’re not doing what the nation needs us to do,” the chairman said.
For the past 25 years, he said, the U.S. military has secured the global commons and deterred adversaries.
“We’ve reassured our allies and we’ve responded to conflict and crises by maintaining our presence abroad,” Dempsey said. “It has been our strategy to shape the international security environment by our forward presence and by building relationships with regional partners.”
He explained that under the strategy, one-third of U.S. forces are deployed, one-third returned from deployment, and one-third getting ready to go.
“Sequestration will fundamentally and significantly change the way we deploy the force and shape the environment,” he said. “We’ll be almost 20 percent smaller when all is said and done, from where we started. And our forward presence will be reduced by about a third.”
This would mean the United States would be less influential and less responsive, the chairman said.
“Conflicts will take longer to resolve and will be more costly in both dollars and in casualties,” the general said.
The global security environment is as uncertain as he has ever seen it, Dempsey said. A resurgent Russia, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, al-Qaida, China modernizing its military, Iran, North Korea — and more — are of concern to U.S. national security officials, he said.
“We’re at a point where our national aspirations are at genuine risk of exceeding our available resources,” Dempsey said.
The president’s fiscal year 2016 budget request would allow officials to follow the defense strategy, he said.
“It’s what we need to remain at the bottom edge of manageable risk to our national defense,” Dempsey said. “There is no slack left.”