As we mourn with those in France who died at the hands of murderous Islamic extremists, as we remember that such brutal terrorism is rampant all over the globe, we are mindful that here at home responsible military readiness is one of the best vanguards for our collective national security.
As we look to the new Congress, great challenges will demand inspired leadership. Past rancor over the sequester, conflicting agendas and partisan gridlock have shaken confidence in our political institutions. Most Americans, particularly the men and women serving in our armed forces, want lawmakers to work together and seek solutions to support America’s interests, not partisan interests. They understand the trajectory of recent defense policy debate and across-the-board cuts to defense spending risks a dangerous path.
But such challenges present opportunity. Next week, the president will offer his State of the Union message, and no doubt he will push for quick action on his pick to become the nation’s next defense secretary, Ashton Carter.
As former deputy defense secretary, Carter has made clear his disdain for sequestration and the absurd challenges it creates for managing defense priorities. In another previous post, as the nation’s top weapons buyer, Carter knows it’s important to invest wisely on defense systems and to streamline the acquisition processes, which have become so cumbersome that it takes far too long to deliver new technology in this dynamic age. But better acquisition governance won’t be enough.
In a recent paper titled ,“Military Readiness in the Age of Complexity and Uncertainty,” retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. George Flynn noted, “We must constantly remind decision makers that it is the training of our force, people and units — and not superior equipment — that has allowed us to deal with unexpected security challenges.”
Flynn should know. In his last job in uniform, he headed the joint staff directorate that is responsible for readiness throughout the defense department.
As both the Senate and the Department of Defense usher in new leadership, it is vital to keep Flynn’s message in mind. To meet combatant commanders’ training and readiness needs, Flynn cites the need for programming which offers military leaders flexibility to confront new and emerging security threats. For example, programs such as the Joint Force Development Support Services program offer military leaders a broad array of contracting options to ensure competition and adaptability. The Army’s Warfighter FOCUS program offers multi-faceted training and readiness solutions designed to ensure our troops as individuals and units are prepared to face the modern battlefield. This program alone has conducted 1.4 million training events in more than 600 locations across the world, while reducing the time from when a combatant commander identifies a training need to execution to as little as 60 days.
These and other training programs need support from congressional and Pentagon leaders to ensure vigilance and readiness. In today’s budgetary environment, training must be done quickly and cost-effectively, without compromising quality. As former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Howard “Buck” McKeon said, “History has taught us, painfully, that when readiness is low, the threat to U.S. national security is high.” This is not only a sentiment, but a historically proven reality the U.S. cannot afford to ignore.
As the events in Paris remind us — along with recent attacks by extremists in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere — that today’s threats are unprecedented, multifaceted and happening all at once. Focusing on military readiness should be a top priority of the new Congress and secretary of Defense nominee Carter. If they’re not, the consequences could be devastating, in casualties and cost.
Brian R. Detter is formerly a member of the Army Science Board and a former deputy assistant secretary of the Navy.