Esper: DOD budget request reflects readiness priorities, tough choices in National Defense Strategy

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A pilot with the 36th Fighter Squadron steps down from the cockpit of an F-16 Falcon fighter jet in support of exercise Cobra Gold 2020 at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, Feb. 24, 2020. (Army photograph by Sgt. Austin Fox)
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The 2018 National Defense Strategy provides a road map for the Defense Department to address the reemergence of strategic competition from China and Russia, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said.

Esper testified Feb. 26 before the House Armed Services Committee on DOD’s fiscal year 2021 defense budget request.

The $705.4 billion request represents a minor increase from last year’s $704.6 billion request; however,  it does not keep pace with inflation, so it’s actually a 2% decrease, he noted.

As a result, the secretary said, tough decisions were made to ensure that DOD’s highest priorities were adequately funded.

A sailor untangles air pressure hoses aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Va. (Navy photograph by PO3 Michael Joseph Flesch)

For example, Esper noted, the budget request funds eight surface and subsurface battle-force ships, including a Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine and a Virginia-class submarine.

DOD would have preferred funding to get the Navy closer to its goal of 355 or more ships, Esper said, but  there were two competing pressures: the first was the topline budget itself, and the second was the need to move nearly $4 billion from shipbuilding to maintenance.

The concern is that the nation has a “hollow” Navy, Esper said. A General Accountability Office report in December stated that over the last five years, 75 percent of surface ships didn’t leave maintenance on time. Half of those ships took more than three months to get to sea. That means last year 19 ships were unavailable to go to sea.

Esper provided a second example of tough decisions the department made to fund high-priority National Defense Strategy programs. A comprehensive Defense-Wide Review focused on reallocating resources from programs and activities that offer low return on investment in terms of the National Defense Strategy’s goals and objectives, he said.

The fast-attack submarine USS Hawaii returns to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Jan. 24, 2020. (Navy photograph by PO1 Michael B. Zingaro)

Over a four-month period, he said, DOD conducted more than 20 review sessions, examining almost $100 billion in programs, agencies and activities in the department that are not service-specific. As a result, he told the committee, this review reallocated $5.7 billion budgeted in fiscal 2021 in areas such as nuclear modernization, space, missile defense, hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence and 5G communications.

To make room for investments in future capabilities, he added, the services have divested some legacy systems, and currently, the department is evaluating each of the combatant commands to ensure the force is balanced to meet the National Defense Strategy’s requirements. 

The department will rely on allies and partners to help provide the necessary global security, Esper said.
 

An Army chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist walks near an autonomous vehicle at Yakima Training Center, Wash., April 30, 2019. (Army photograph by Pfc. Valentina Y. Montano)

 
 
 

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