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Secretary of Defense Testimony

Opening Statement -- Senate Armed Services Committee (FY 2017 Budget Request)

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Washington, D.C., March 17, 2016

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Chairman McCain, Senator Reed, all Members of the Committee:

Thank you so much for the opportunity to be here, from me, the Chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff], and from our Under Secretary [for Comptroller], and above all, for your steadfast support to our, DoD’s, men and women all over the world, military and civilian alike, who serve and defend us.  I’m pleased to be here with Chairman Dunford, and we will be discussing the President’s 2017 defense budget, and other matters – a budget which marks a major inflection point for the Department of Defense. 

In this budget, we’re taking the long view.  We have to, because even as we fight today’s fights, we must also be prepared for what might come 10, and 20, and 30 years down the road.  Last fall’s Bipartisan Budget Act gave us some much-needed stability after years of gridlock and turbulence, and I want to thank you and your colleagues for coming together to help pass it.  That budget set the size of our budget, and with this degree of certainty we focused on its shape – changing that shape in fundamental but carefully considered ways to adjust to a new strategic era, and to seize opportunities for the future.

Let me describe the strategic assessment that drove our budget decisions.  First of all, it’s evident that America is still today the world’s foremost leader, partner, and underwriter of stability and security in every region of the world, as we’ve been since the end of World War II.  That’s thanks in large part to the unequivocal strength of the United States military.  And as we continue to fulfill this enduring role, it’s also evident that we’re entering a new strategic era, as has been noted.  Today’s security environment is dramatically different from the last 25 years, requiring new ways of investing and operating.  Five evolving strategic challenges – namely Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and terrorism – are now driving DoD’s planning and budgeting as reflected in this budget.

I want to focus first on our ongoing fight against terrorism, and especially ISIL – which we must and will deal a lasting defeat, most immediately in its parent tumor in Iraq and Syria, but also where it’s metastasizing.  We’re doing that in Africa and elsewhere, and also in Afghanistan, where we continue to stand with the Afghan government and people.  And all the while, we’re continuing to help protect our homeland.  As we’re accelerating our overall counter-ISIL campaign, we’re backing it up with increased funding this year – requesting 50 percent more than last year.

We’ve gained momentum against ISIL since the Chairman and I last appeared before this committee.  Notably, the Iraqis retook Ramadi, and are now reclaiming further ground in Anbar Province.  In Syria, capable and motivated local forces supported by the United States  and our global coalition have retaken the east Syrian town of Shaddadi, severing the last major northern artery between Raqqa and Mosul, and therefore between ISIL in Syria and ISIL in Iraq.  Meanwhile, 90 percent of our military coalition partners have committed to increase their contributions to help defeat ISIL.  We’ve increased strikes on ISIL-held cash depots and oil revenues.  We’ve conducted targeted strikes against ISIL in Libya.  And we’ve also recently killed ISIL’s Minister of War, the Chechen fighter Omar al-Shishani.

Now, before I continue, I want to say a few words about Russia’s role.

Russia said it was coming into Syria to fight ISIL, but that’s not what it did.  Instead, their military has only prolonged the civil war, propped up Assad, and as of now, we haven’t seen whether Russia has retained the leverage to find a diplomatic way forward, which is what the Syrian people need. 

One thing is clear, though.  Russia’s entry into Syria didn’t impact our campaign against ISIL.  Along with our coalition partners, we’re intensifying our campaign against ISIL in both Iraq and Syria, and we’ll continue to do so until ISIL is dealt a lasting defeat.

Two of the other four challenges reflect a return, in some ways, to great power competition.  One is in Europe, where we’re taking a strong and balanced approach to deter Russian aggression – we haven’t had to devote a significant portion of our defense investment to this possibility for a quarter-century, but now we do.  The other challenge is in the Asia-Pacific, where China is rising, which is fine, but behaving aggressively, which is not.  There, we’re continuing our rebalance to the region to maintain the stability we’ve underwritten for the past 70 years, allowing so many nations to rise and prosper in this, the single most consequential region for America’s future.

Meanwhile, two other longstanding challenges pose threats in specific regions.  North Korea is one – that’s why our forces on the Korean Peninsula remain ready, as they say, to “fight tonight.”  The other is Iran, because while the nuclear accord is a good deal for preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, in other respects our concerns with Iran persist.  And while I’m on the subject of Iran, and given this committee’s particular interest in this matter, I want to say a few words about Iran’s treatment of our sailors on Farsi Island back in January.  As I’ve made clear, Iran’s actions were outrageous, unprofessional, and inconsistent with international law, and nothing we’ve learned about the circumstances of this incident since then changes that fact. And it’s because of Iran’s reckless and destabilizing behavior in that part of the world that DoD remains full speed ahead – in our investments, our planning, and our posture – to ensure we deter Iran’s aggression, counter its malign influence, and uphold our ironclad commitments to our regional friends and allies, especially Israel, to whom we maintain an unwavering and unbreakable commitment.

Now, addressing all of these five challenges requires new investments on our part, new posture in some regions, and also new and enhanced capabilities.  For example, we know we must deal with all of these five challenges across all domains –  not just the usual air, land, and sea, but also especially in cyber, electronic warfare, and space, where reliance on technology has given us great strengths and great opportunities, but also led to vulnerabilities that adversaries are eager to exploit.

Key to our approach is being able to deter our most advanced competitors.  We must have – and be seen to have – the ability to ensure that anyone who starts a conflict with us will regret doing so.  In our budget, our capabilities, our readiness, and our actions, we must and will be prepared for a high-end enemy – what we call full-spectrum.

In this context, Russia and China are our most stressing competitors, as they’ve both developed and continue to advance military systems that seek to threaten our advantages in specific areas.  We see it in the South China Sea, and in Crimea and Syria as well.  In some cases, they’re developing weapons and ways of war that seek to achieve their objectives rapidly, before they think we can respond.  Because of this, DoD has elevated their importance in our planning and budgeting.

In my written testimony, I’ve detailed how our budget makes critical investments to help us address better these five evolving challenges.  We’re strengthening our deterrence posture in Europe by investing $3.4 billion for our European Reassurance Initiative – quadruple what we requested last year.  We’re prioritizing training and readiness for our ground forces, as has been noted, and reinvigorating the readiness and modernization of our fighter aircraft fleet.  We’re investing in innovative capabilities like the B-21 long-range strike bomber, microdrones, and the arsenal plane, as well as advanced munitions of all sorts.  In our Navy, we’re emphasizing not just increasing the number of ships, which we’re doing, but especially their lethality, with new weapons and high-end ships, and extending our commanding lead in undersea warfare – with new investments in unmanned undersea vehicles, for example, and more submarines with the versatile Virginia Payload Module that triples their strike capacity from 12 Tomahawks to 40.  And we’re doing more in cyber, electronic warfare, and space – investing in these three domains a combined total of $34 billion in 2017 to, among other things, help build our cyber mission force, develop next-generation electronic jammers, and prepare for the possibility of a conflict that extends into space.  In short, DoD will keep ensuring our dominance in all domains.

As we do this, our budget also seizes opportunities for the future.  That’s a responsibility I have to all my successors, to ensure the military and the Defense Department they inherit is just as strong, if not stronger, than the one I have the privilege of leading today.

That’s why we’re making increased investments in science and technology, innovating operationally, and building new bridges to the amazing American innovative system – as we always have, to stay ahead of future threats.  It’s why we’re building what I’ve called the Force of the Future – because as good as our technology is, it’s nothing compared to our people, and in the future we need to continue to recruit and retain the very best talent.  Competing for good people for an all-volunteer force is a critical part of our military edge, and everyone should understand this need and my commitment to it.

And because we owe it to America’s taxpayers to spend our defense dollars as wisely and responsibly as possible, we’re also pushing for needed reforms across the DoD enterprise – from continuously improving acquisitions, to further reducing overhead, to proposing new changes to the Goldwater-Nichols Act that defines much of our institutional organization.

I know Goldwater-Nichols reform is a focus of this committee, and Chairman, I appreciate that.  Goldwater-Nichols was important and had deeply positive results, but after 30 years, as you’ve said, it needs updates.  There are some areas where the pendulum may have swung too far, like not involving the service chiefs enough in acquisition decision-making and accountability.  And there are areas, as you’ve noted, where subsequent world events suggest nudging the pendulum further, like taking more steps to strengthen the capability of the Chairman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to help address transregional threats, threats in multiple domains, and multiple threats within overlapping time frames.

As you know, last fall we began a comprehensive, department-wide review of organizational issues like these to identify any potential redundancies, inefficiencies, or other areas of improvement to help formulate DoD’s recommendations to you.  I expect its internal findings by the end of March.

This work is important.  Though much is within our existing authority to do so, we look forward to working closely with Congress to implement needed reforms.  And as we discussed over breakfast last week, Chairman and Senator Reed, I look forward to working with you personally on this important matter.

Let me close on the broader shift reflected in this budget.  The Defense Department doesn’t have, as I’ve said, the luxury of just one opponent, or the choice between current fights and future fights – we have to do both.  That’s what this budget is designed to do.  And we need your help to succeed.

I thank this committee again for supporting the Bipartisan Budget Act that set the size of our budget.  Our submission focuses on the budget’s shape, making changes that are necessary and consequential.  We hope you approve it.  I know some may be looking at the difference between what we proposed last year and what the budget deal gave us – a net total of about $11 billion less is provided by the Bipartisan Budget Act out of a total of almost $600 billion – but I want to reiterate that we’ve mitigated that difference, and that this budget meets our needs.  The budget deal was a good deal; it gave us stability.  We’re grateful for that.  DoD’s greatest risk is losing that stability this year, and having uncertainty and sequester return in future years.  That’s why going forward, the biggest budget priority for us strategically is Congress averting the return of sequestration – to prevent $100 billion in automatic cuts that are looming – so we can maintain stability and sustain all these critical investments over time.

We’ve done this before, and that same support is essential today – to address the security challenges we face, and to seize the opportunities within our grasp.  As long as we work together to do so, I know our national security will be on the right path, and America’s military will continue to defend our country and help make a better world for generations to come.

Thank you.