The U.S. military's qualitative and quantitative competitive advantage over its foes is in jeopardy if Congress does not provide stable and predictable funding, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the Senate Armed Services Committee here today.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford told the committee that profound consequences for the military lie ahead if the spending trajectory doesn't change.
"It will affect our nuclear deterrence, our conventional deterrence and our ability to respond if deterrence fails," he said. "Alternatively, we can maintain our competitive advantage, with sustained sufficient and predictable funding. To that end, the [fiscal year 2018] budget is an essential step."
The chairman testified before the committee during a hearing about the president's $639 billion fiscal year 2018 defense budget request. The chairman told the senators that looking forward, the department needs "continued growth in the base budget of at least 3 percent above inflation."
He said that is the floor to preserve the competitive advantage the military enjoys today.
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The chairman told the senators that over the next five years, the United States risks losing its ability to project power -- arguably the most crucial military advantage the United States has.
From sending 2 million men to France in World War I, to invading Normandy in World War II, to landing at Inchon in the Korean War, or putting more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, the United States military knows how to get service members to the fight and then sustain them. It is something very few countries can do, and that alone has its own deterrent effect, Dunford said.
But the rest of the world has studied America's strategies, he said.
"From my perspective -- really since the 1990s -- China, Russia, other countries have studied U.S. capabilities from precision munitions to our ability to project power," the chairman said. "We call it our center of gravity, our source of strength -- the ability to project power when and where necessary to advance our interest, to meet our alliance commitments."
Being able to get military capabilities where they need to be and sustaining them once there plays an important part in reassuring allies around the world, the chairman said.
Russia and China are investing in technologies to defeat that ability, the chairman said. These technologies include anti-ship cruise missiles, anti-ship ballistic missiles, electronic warfare capabilities and cyber capabilities, he said.
"All focus to prevent us from projecting power when and where necessary to accomplish our objective," Dunford said.
Russia wants to sow doubt among NATO allies that America can come to their aid if needed, the chairman said, and China wants to sow doubts with Pacific allies. "They want to keep us from being able to deploy forces into the area and to operate freely within the area," he said.
The U.S. military's ability to project power is eroding, Dunford said.
"Unless we change the path we're on, we're going to be at a competitive disadvantage qualitatively," the chairman told the committee.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)