For the seventh year in a row Congress has failed to pass a defense appropriations bill in time for the fiscal year, and for four years the Defense Department and other agencies have struggled against sequestration impacts, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said today.
He delivered keynote remarks during the Association of the U.S. Army annual conference, taking time to thank Army leaders past and present, Army colleagues and those on his staff, and soldiers everywhere for their service to the nation.
“Making indiscriminate cuts is managerially inefficient and therefore … wasteful to taxpayers and industry … it’s dangerous for our strategy and frankly it’s embarrassing around the world. And it is dispiriting to our talented people and their families who deserve to know better what the future holds,” Carter said.
DoD has done its best to manage through this prolonged period of budget uncertainty, the secretary said, making painful choices and tradeoffs among size, capabilities and readiness of the joint force.
“We cannot as a nation allow this to become the new normal,” he said. “In today’s security environment we need to be dynamic and we need to be responsive. What we have now is a straitjacket.”
Also during his remarks, Carter described three commitments he made when he became defense secretary and how the Army is central to each one. His commitments are to the current force, to the president to provide candid strategic advice, and to the future of the nation and the force.
“Through 14 years of counterinsurgency and countless missions our soldiers performed with excellence. No other force in history, in the world, could have executed or adapted as well as our total Army, [along with] our Guard and Reserves. They learned hard-fought lessons and quickly adjusted,” Carter said.
Today, he said, soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team are training Ukrainian security forces to defend against aggression, and the 8th Army stands on the Korean Peninsula, where “fight tonight” is not a slogan but a mindset..
Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division advised Iraqi and Kurdish forces confronting ISIL, he added, and soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division and others reinvented forward deployment as part of Pacific Pathways to enhance cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region.
“In a complex, unsafe world with increasing global demands on American leadership,” the secretary said, “it’s our people, our soldiers, and their unmatched ability to seize and dominate physical and human terrain, shape the strategic environment and prevent conflict.”
Addressing the nation’s defense strategy, Carter discussed the need for a 21st century NATO playbook that includes countering new challenges like hybrid warfare and cyber, better integrating conventional and nuclear deterrence, and adjusting the U.S. posture and presence to adapt and respond to new challenges and threats.
Because the Army is at the center of the strategy, he said, elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team were deployed to train Ukrainian security forces under Operation Atlantic Resolve, and more units from the 173rd trained alongside U.S. allies in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
For the same reason, Carter said Stryker units and brigade-sized elements were moved from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment through 1,800 kilometers of Eastern Europe alongside U.S. allies from Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.
And the 3rd Infantry Division, with whom Carter recently spoke in Grafenwoehr, Germany, trained alongside 10 NATO allies and three partner nations as part of Combined Resolve, he added.
Carter also discussed the situation in Europe and Russia’s aggression there. He discussed the Middle East and Russia’s behavior in Syria. And he discussed Afghanistan and how the United States and its allies are committed to continuing to support the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.
On his commitment to the future of the nation and the department, Carter said DoD needs a 21st-century personnel system to match a 21st-century military, that it must be open to a wider world of technology, and that it needs a sensible long-term budget.
“To build the force of the future we have to attract, compete for, and retain the best talent from a new generation,” he said, adding that another way to keep an edge in the future is to continue to innovate and invest in the best technology.
In recent times the military has used high-end technology against relatively low-tech capabilities, Carter said, but today other militaries and non-state actors are acquiring high-end military technologies.
Nations like Russia and China are closing the technology gap, Carter said, “developing platforms to thwart our advantages of power projection and freedom of movement. They’re fielding new aircraft and ballistic, cruise, anti-ship, and anti-air missiles that are longer-range and more accurate.”
The nation’s imperative is clear, he said.
“We must innovate to stay the best-equipped and prepared so we can ensure that the skill of each soldier is wielded in the most effective and safest way possible,” Carter said.