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Opening Statement -- Senate Appropriations Committee-Defense (FY 2017 Budget Request)

Thank you Chairman Cochran, distinguished members.  I appreciate your having me here, Chairman Dunford, and Undersecretary McCord today, and above all for steadfastly supporting DoD’s men and women – military and civilian alike – who serve and defend our country all over the world.  Over the last two weeks, I’ve visited many of those troops in the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.  And I couldn’t be prouder of what they’re doing to advance our security and stand by our friends and allies in those critical regions.

I’m pleased to be here with Chairman Dunford to discuss President Obama’s 2017 defense 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, 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’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.  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.  And all the while, we’re continuing to help protect our 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 – beginning with Iraq, which Chairman Dunford and I both visited over the course of last week.  There, with our support, the Iraqi Security Forces retook Ramadi, have been reclaiming further ground in Anbar Province – most recently the city of Hit – and along with Iraqi Kurdish forces have begun operations to isolate and pressure Mosul, with the intent of collapsing ISIL’s control over that city.

As we’ve made this progress, and with momentum in this campaign clearly on our side, last week in Baghdad I announced a number of key actions we’re taking to continue accelerating our campaign against ISIL.  We’ll be placing advisors with the ISF – that is, the Iraqi Security Forces – down to the brigade and battalion level, to help enhance decision-making and responsiveness.  We’ll be leveraging Apache attack helicopters to support the ISF’s ongoing efforts to envelop and then retake Mosul.  We’ll send additional HIMARS to support the Iraqi ground offensive there.  We’ll provide financial assistance to the Peshmerga, up to $415 million, to bolster one of the most effective fighting forces against ISIL.  And, to do all this, we’re going to adjust how we use our forces and also bring in about 215 more of them.  As in the past, President Obama has approved all these actions at my and the Chairman’s recommendation.

We’re also doing more in Syria.  As the President announced earlier this week, we’re increasing U.S. forces there six-fold, from 50 to 300.  This comes after capable and motivated local forces supported by our coalition retook 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.  These additional 250 personnel, including special operations forces, will help expand our ongoing efforts to identify, train, and equip capable, motivated local forces inside Syria to help isolate and pressure Raqqa.  They’ll also serve as a hub to incorporate partner SOF – from both longstanding traditional allies and Gulf countries – to augment our coalition’s counter-ISIL efforts there.   I should note, however, that Syria is an area where we need your help, particularly in releasing $349 million in Section 1209 funds to help train and equip our partners on the ground, as a centerpiece of our strategy there.

All this comes on top of what we’ve already done to accelerate the military campaign – such as intensifying our air campaign based on new intelligence; introducing an expeditionary targeting force; and expanding the fight against ISIL to every domain, including cyber and space.  And as we’re accelerating our overall counter-ISIL campaign, we’re backing it up with increased funding for 2017 – requesting 50 percent more than last year.  But I have to say, much still hinges on the non-military aspects of countering ISIL, particularly efforts to address political and economic challenges in both Iraq and Syria.  That’s critical to ensuring ISIL stays defeated.

Next, two of the other four strategic 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, enabling so many nations to rise and prosper in this, the single most consequential region for America’s future.  And, as I saw in India and the Philippines at the beginning of my trip, our engagement in the Asia-Pacific is deeply appreciated and in high demand – by enduring allies and new friends alike.

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, and also our Gulf partners, whom I met with last week in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh.

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 Crimea, Syria, and the South China Sea.  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, 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.  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 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 continuously improving acquisition, to 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.

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 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 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. 

In this context, I have serious concerns with a proposal from one of the defense committees to underfund DoD’s overseas warfighting accounts by $18 billion, and spend that money on programmatic items we did not request.  While I don’t expect this committee to consider such a proposal, I have to say that this approach is deeply troubling, and flawed for several reasons.

It’s gambling with warfighting money at a time of war – proposing to cut off our troops’ funding in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria in the middle of the year.  It would spend money on things that are not DoD’s highest unfunded priorities across the joint force.  It buys force structure without the money to sustain it and keep it ready, effectively creating hollow force structure, and working against our efforts to restore readiness.  It doesn’t address the much bigger strategic risk DoD faces of $100 billion in looming automatic cuts; in fact, it’s a step in the direction of unraveling the Bipartisan Budget Act, which provided critical stability that DoD needs now and desires for the future.  And it’s another road to nowhere, with uncertain chances of ever becoming law, and a high probability of leading to more gridlock and another continuing resolution – exactly the kind of terrible distraction we’ve seen for years, that undercuts stable planning and efficient use of taxpayer dollars, dispirits troops and their families, baffles friends, and emboldens foes.  I cannot support such maneuvers as Secretary of Defense.  

The fact is, DoD’s greatest strategic risk is losing the stability we got from the budget deal 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 that $100 billion in automatic cuts – so we can maintain stability and sustain all these critical investments over time.

We’ve seen this done 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.