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Military Doing Better Today Than 4 Years Ago, Deputy Secretary Says

March 10, 2020 | BY C. Todd Lopez , DOD News

The U.S. military is doing better today than it was four years ago based on several metrics, Deputy Defense Secretary David L. Norquist said.

"We are in a very different place than we were four years ago," Norquist told lawmakers today during a hearing before the House Budget Committee. "The readiness of our forces are up, the quantity of munitions they have is up, [and] the training level is up."

A man speaks into a microphone.
Norquist Testimony
Deputy Defense Secretary David L. Norquist provides testimony to the House Budget Committee about the Defense Department's fiscal year 2021 budget request in Washington, March 10, 2020.
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 200310-D-BN624-0138

Norquist told lawmakers, specifically, that the Defense Department has increased the number of ready brigade combat teams by 33% and raised the readiness of the Air Force's lead pacing squadrons by 35%.

While the military is traditionally thought of as fighting on land, in the air and on the sea, Norquist told lawmakers that space and cyberspace are two new domains where the DOD has made significant investments over the past three years. The department established the U.S. Space Force, for instance, elevated U.S. Cyber Command to a unified combatant command, and created the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center.

A fisheye view of three service members looking at computer monitors in what appears to be a small room.
Red Room
Marines with Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command pose for photos in a cyber operations room at Lasswell Hall a Fort Meade, Maryland, Feb. 5, 2020.
Photo By: Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jacob Osborne
VIRIN: 200205-M-VG714-0161M

The Defense Department's fiscal year 2021 budget request of $704.5 billion is the next step in implementing the National Defense Strategy, Norquist said.

The focus for the budget request, he said, is on all domain operations and preparing for future challenges. He said the budget focuses on recapitalization of nuclear deterrence capabilities, strengthening homeland missile defense and expanding investments in technologies — such as hypersonic weapons, directed energy, 5G, microelectronics, artificial intelligence and autonomous platforms.

Last November, Norquist told lawmakers, the DOD completed its second departmentwide audit, which he said drives both near-term savings and long-term departmental reforms. One example of success has been the uncovering of available inventory for the department.

"The audit is not just a paperwork trail, they go and they open warehouses," he said. "We found places where there were items in inventory, many times known to the locals but not ... across the services because it wasn't in the database. That freed up $167 million worth of supplies, put those back into inventory, [we were] able to close out requirements."

A group of soldiers stand in silhouette on a hill.
Combat Team
Soldiers with the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team train at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., January 15, 2018.
Photo By: Army Maj. Gregory McElwain
VIRIN: 180619-A-VH638-015M

The audit also revealed places where savings could be had using automation, Norquist said. He also said long term benefits of the auditing are that private sector firms will have access to more timely and accurate data that can be used to drive decision-making.

When it comes to getting the FY2021 budget passed, Norquist told the committee how damaging continuing resolutions are to the department and its ability to operate. First, he said, continuing resolutions prevent the start of new programs.

"If we have a technology that the department recommends, and the House and Senate both agree, and Republicans and Democrats think are valuable, we can't start it on 1 October. We have to wait," he said. "So, each year you give the other team a three- to four-months head start every time you are under a CR because you're delaying these new technologies."

The same problem occurs with planned increases in production, he said.

Two service members stand on a flight line near a military combat aircraft.
Fighting Falcon
Air Force Staff Sgts. Nathan Stokes and David Williams wait to marshal a U.S. Air Force F-16 “Viper” Fighting Falcon assigned to the 79th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at an undisclosed location in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, Feb. 24, 2020.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Joseph Pick
VIRIN: 200224-F-UQ958-1002M

"There's a factory that's scaled to go from 50 to 100, but it has to operate at 50, inefficiently, at extra cost to the taxpayer, until the budget ... passes and allows them to go up to the hundred that the Congress authorized and appropriated and the department supported."

The real risk of the continuing resolution, Norquist said, is that federal agencies and the DOD get used to them and make adjustments.

"It just moves its contracts to the spring and builds a six-month ... delay because it just assumes it will not get the budget on time," he said. "So, in a government where speed and efficiency is always a challenge and you're trying to push, the continuing resolution pushes things to be slower and more inefficient and wasteful."