The fiscal year 2017 Defense Department budget request must, of necessity, take the long view, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee on April 27.
The secretary said the long view is needed, “because, even as we fight today’s fights, we must also be prepared for what might come 10, 20, or 30 years down the road.”
The budget request recognizes the changing character of war and gives the department the means to change in “fundamental but carefully considered ways” in this new strategic era.
Carter said the budget is focused on five threats: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and violent extremism.
In his opening testimony, the defense secretary gave “a quick snapshot” of U.S. moves against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. He touted the success Iraqi troops have had recently in retaking Ramadi and Hit. He said Iraqi and peshmerga forces are cooperating to isolate and pressure Mosul.
“As we’ve made this progress — and with momentum in this campaign clearly on our side — last week in Baghdad I announced a number of key actions we’re taking to continue accelerating our campaign against ISIL,” he said.
A total of 215 more advisers will be based in Iraq to work with Iraqi security forces down to the brigade and battalion level. The Iraqis accepted AH-64 Apache attack helicopters as part of the offensive against Mosul, he said, and there will be additional artillery for that effort.
The counter-ISIL effort in Syria will see an additional 250 American personnel working with vetted Syrian groups inside Syria, Carter said.
“These additional 250 personnel, including special operations forces, will help expand our ongoing efforts to identify, train and equip capable, motivated local forces inside Syria to help isolate and pressure Raqqa,” he said. “They’ll also serve as a hub to incorporate partner SOF — from both longstanding traditional allies and Gulf countries — to augment our coalition’s counter-ISIL efforts there.”
The secretary said that, regarding Russia and China, it is a return to great power competition. North Korea is the one spot on Earth where the United States could find itself in a ground war tonight, he said. The final challenge, Iran, still exerts malign influence throughout the Persian Gulf and Middle East region, Carter said.
“Now, addressing all of these five challenges requires new investments on our part, new posture in some regions, and also new and enhanced capabilities,” he said.
“For example, we know we must deal with these challenges across all domains — and not just the usual air, land and sea,” the defense secretary said, “but also especially in cyber, electronic warfare and space, where our reliance on technology has given us great strengths and great opportunities, but also led to vulnerabilities that adversaries are eager to exploit.”
Carter noted his apprehension with a proposal out of the House Armed Services Committee that would shift $18 billion from the overseas contingency portion of the budget to the base budget. “I have serious concerns with a proposal from one of the defense committees to underfund DOD’s overseas warfighting accounts by $18 billion, and spend that money on programmatic items we didn’t request,” he said.
“It’s gambling with warfighting money at a time of war — proposing to cut off our troops’ funding in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in the middle of the year,” he continued. “It would spend money on things that are not DOD’s highest unfunded priorities across the joint force. It buys force structure without the money to sustain it and keep it ready, effectively creating hollow force structure, and working against our efforts to restore readiness.”