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Secretary of Defense Testimony

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

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Washington, D.C., March 22, 2016

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Thank you very much, Chairman Thornberry. Congresswoman Davis, thank you. Thanks to all Members of the Committee. Thanks for hosting me here today.

I want to begin by condemning this morning’s bombings in Belgium.  Our thoughts and our prayers are with those affected by this tragedy – the victims, their families, and the survivors.  And in the face of these acts of terrorism, the United States stands in strong solidarity with our ally Belgium.

We’re continuing to monitor the situation, including to ensure that all U.S. personnel and citizens are accounted for.  We also stand ready to provide assistance to our friends and allies in Europe as necessary.

Brussels is an international city that has been host to NATO and to the European Union for decades.  Together, we must and we will continue to do everything we can to protect our homelands and defeat terrorists wherever they threaten us.  No attack will affect our resolve to accelerate the defeat of ISIL.  I’ll have more to say about this later in the testimony.

Thank you again for hosting me today, and for steadfastly supporting DoD’s men and women all over the world – military and civilian – who serve and defend us.  I’m pleased to be here with Chairman Dunford and Under Secretary McCord to discuss President Obama’s 2017 defense budget, which marks a major inflection point for the Department of Defense.  As I will describe in detail, the threat from terrorism is one of the five challenges, as has been noted, that the United States now faces and will in the future.

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, 20, or 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 deal 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 have been since the end of World War II.  That’s thanks in large part to the unequivocal strength of the U.S. military.  And as we continue to fulfill this enduring role, it’s also evident that we’re entering a new strategic era.  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, as the attacks in Belgium today again remind us, we must and will deal a lasting defeat, most immediately in its parent tumor in Iraq and Syria, but also where it’s metastasizing.  And all the while, we’re continuing to help protect our own homeland.

Let me give you a quick snapshot of what we’re doing to pressure and destroy ISIL’s parent tumor in Iraq and Syria.  In Iraq, with our support, the Iraqi Security Forces retook Ramadi, and are now reclaiming further ground in Anbar Province, and are simultaneously shifting the weight of their effort toward Mosul in the north.  With our advice and assistance, Iraqi and Kurdish Security Forces have begun the shaping and isolation phase of the operation to collapse ISIL’s control over Mosul.  That was the mission Marine Staff Sergeant Louis Cardin was supporting when he gave his life over the weekend – providing critical protection to Iraqi forces and coalition military advisors in northern Iraq.  Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, and with the other Marines injured in Saturday’s rocket attack.  Their sacrifice will not be forgotten, and our global coalition will complete the mission they were supporting.

In Syria, capable and motivated local forces supported by the United States and our global coalition have retaken the east Syrian town of Shaddadi.  This town served as an important logistical and financial hub for ISIL and a key intersection between its Syria and Iraq operations.  In fact, Shaddadi was so important to ISIL that its so-called Minister of War was involved in ISIL’s defense of the town.  We killed him, while our local partners expelled ISIL from the town.  In doing so, the coalition campaign severed the last major northern artery between Raqqa and Mosul, and therefore between ISIL in Syria and ISIL in Iraq.  And we’re intent on further isolating and pressuring ISIL, including by cutting off its remaining lines of communications in southern Syria and into Turkey. 

In addition to local forces we’re working with, 90 percent of our military coalition partners – from Europe, the Gulf, Asia; 26 countries in all, including, by the way, our ally Belgium – have committed to increase their contributions to help accelerate the defeat of ISIL.  We’ve increased strikes on ISIL-held cash depots, oil revenues, and sites associated with its ambitions to develop and use chemical weapons.  And we’re addressing ISIL’s metastasis as well, having conducted targeted strikes against ISIL in Libya and Afghanistan.

As we’re accelerating our overall counter-ISIL campaign, we’re backing it up with increased funding for 2017, as the Chairman already noted – requesting 50 percent more than last year.

Now, before I continue, I want to say a few words about Russia’s role in this.  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 leverage over Assad to facilitate 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 superpower 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 nearly 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, enabling 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, we must still deter Iranian aggression and counter Iran’s malign influence against our regional friends and allies, especially Israel, to which 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 these challenges across all domains – and not just the usual air, land, and sea, but also especially in cyber, electronic warfare, and space, where our 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 them in the South China Sea, and in Crimea and in 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 better address 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 very important matter, emphasized, very appropriately, by the Chairman – 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.  Among other things, this will 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.  That’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 must 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 meeting 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, and we need your help with all of them – from further reducing overhead and excess infrastructure, to modernizing and simplifying TRICARE, to proposing new changes to the Goldwater-Nichols Act that defines much of our institutional organization, as I intend to do shortly, to continuously improving acquisitions.

And on that subject, I want to commend this committee, and especially its leaders, for your continued dedication and strong partnership with DoD on acquisition reform.  We’ve already taken important strides here, such as last year’s reforms to reduce redundant reporting requirements and documentation.  And as you’re looking to do more, so are we.

Chairman Thornberry, I know you laid out new proposals on this last week.  Some of what you’re proposing would save us critical time in staying ahead of emerging threats.  That’s very important and we appreciate that.  It’s extremely helpful.  I know this is just a draft, and I appreciate that you put it out there for discussion.  In that regard, I have to say that in the current draft, there are some things that are problematic for us.  So I’m also hopeful that we can continue to work with you on your proposals to ensure that DoD has the flexibility needed to apply the principles in your work to addressing all the diverse acquisition challenges we have to solve for our warfighters.  I appreciate your willingness to hear our ideas as well – including ways to make it easier for program managers to do their jobs, and involving the service chiefs more in acquisition decision-making and accountability – and I look forward to working together as we have before.

Let me close on the broader shift reflected in this budget.  The Defense Department doesn’t have the luxury of just one opponent, or the choice between fights – between future fights and current fights – we have to do it all.  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 indicated last year we would be asking for 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.  Our greatest risk, 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 what would be $100 billion in looming automatic cuts – so that we can maintain stability and sustain all these critical investments I’ve been speaking of.

We’ve seen this before, and that same support, coming together, 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.