The Buzz

The Only Reason America Could Lose the Next Big War

The Pentagon’s military readiness continues to lag even as the prospect of another continuing resolution or government shutdown looms in Washington. Continuing resolutions—which Congress has often passed as temporary measures in place of an actual budget—combined with automatic sequestration budget cuts, cause severe disruptions to military readiness.

“We're never where we should be. Where we want to be is everyone's ready,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters on Jan. 16. “The fact is units that have just returned home from overseas duty and need time to get back into training, fix their gear up, that sort of thing.  There's also years of sequestration, Budget Control Act, there's years of being on what's called C.R.’s, continuing resolutions.”

Mattis described the basic problem that he has to solve on a day-to-day basis.

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“When I look for, ‘Are these troops doing everything they possibly can with what they've got available?’ Then it's my job to get them a broader issue,” Mattis said. “I'll give you an example.  I've got squadrons that rate -- that just -- take -- pick a number.  And the squadrons can rate 20 airplanes or 10 airplanes, depending on what kind of airplane it is, or even four airplanes.”

Mattis describes his example. “Let's just say it's a 10-airplane squadron,” Mattis said. “In some cases, the airplane has actually worn-out, you cannot fix it.  The metal fatigued and the landing—we've got too many landing, you know, something like that.  OK, so I need to buy a new airplane.  Unless I get the money to do that—this went on for years, by the way, over the last administration, where those airplanes were not replaced. So, the maintainers may be doing everything they can, there to keep us having an airplane.”

However, to perform its mission, the squadron in question needs 10 aircraft. “They rate 10. Their wartime mission called for 10,” Mattis said. “They will not be able to maintain the sortie rate I want for Korea, with maybe four airplanes twice a day, if they don't have, you know, 10 airplanes in their squadron.  So, no, we're working on readiness right now.  What I look for though are these troops there doing everything they can.”

Manpower is another related issue—the Pentagon needs the right trained personnel. “Now, if they're missing troops, that's my problem,” Mattis said. “If they're missing airplanes, that's my problem.  And I go back to the Pentagon and talk to the right people.  What are we doing?  Can we get a plane out of the bone yard?  Can a squadron being shut down because it looks like [it’s not ready].  So, no, readiness is not where it needs to be.  I just look to see how they do.  If I couldn't do anything more if I was there, I'm not going to expect them to do more.”

Ultimately, the problem is the Congress—which needs to perform it one constitutionally mandated function—that is to pass a budget every year preferably on time.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.