Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers Tuesday that the U.S. military currently is not prepared or capable across all the service branches of addressing the threats facing the country.
Dunford gave his assessment of the military’s readiness while testifying before the House Armed Services Committee alongside Defense Secretary Ash Carter on the fiscal year 2017 proposed defense budget.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R., Texas), chair of the committee, first listed evidence he has heard from other senior military officers to illustrate how the military does not have sufficient readiness capabilities across the services.
"Let me just offer a handful of other quotes on the record," Thornberry told Dunford. "[Marine Corps Commandant] Gen. [Robert] Neller said, ‘Our aviation units are currently unable to meet our training and mission requirements, primarily due to Ready Basic Aircraft shortfalls.’ [Army Chief of Staff] Gen. [Mark] Milley and Gen. [John] Allen have testified [that] less than one-third of Army forces are at acceptable forces of readiness. The readiness of the United States Army is not at a level that is appropriate for what the American people would expect to defend them."
Thornberry then referenced Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James’ testimony from last week in which she said that "less than half our combat forces are ready for a high-end fight … the Air Force is the smallest, oldest, and least ready force across the full spectrum of operations in our history."
"Do you agree that we have a significant readiness problem across the services, especially for the wide variety of contingencies that we’ve got to face?" Thornberry asked.
"Chairman, I do, and I think those are accurate reflections of the force as a whole," Dunford said. "From my perspective, there’s really three issues: There are the resources necessary to address the readiness issue, there’s time, and then there’s operational tempo."
Dunford said that the readiness problem is the result of several years of an "unstable fiscal environment" combined with an "extraordinarily high operational tempo," or rate of military actions.
The general warned it will take many years to dig out of this situation, but said he is satisfied that the FY 2017 budget meets the fiscal requirements of each service for readiness.
The United States cannot buy its way out of the readiness problem this year, Dunford said, because of time and the growing need to deploy resources quickly.
He added that the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps will not be sufficiently ready to counter the challenges they need to until around fiscal year 2020, and the Air Force likely will not reach that point until fiscal year 2028.
Beyond resources, time, and operational tempo, Dunford explained that depot-level maintenance has been back-logged in Marine aviation, and likely in other branches as well, contributing to the delay in reaching full readiness.
"I think it’s important for us and for y’all to continue to not only watch this issue but really understand down deeper what’s happening," Thornberry said. "Statistics are one thing, but you talk to these folks eyeball to eyeball, and the sense of frustration and concern is very evident."
The military has been steadily downsized over the course of the Obama administration, with the number of active-duty ships in the Navy reduced to pre-World War I levels and the Marine Corps the smallest it has been since the Korean War in the early 1950s. The size of the Army has been reduced as well.