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Esper Outlines Global Challenges, Opportunities

Dec. 7, 2019 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper discussed issues ranging from the budget and National Defense Strategy to global Defense Department activities today at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.

Esper said he was appreciative of the recent budget, which he said allowed the department to address modernization and readiness shortfalls in the face of growing challenges from Russia and China. But he lamented the ongoing legislative continuing resolutions that prevent utilization of the 2020 defense budget. 

Every day under a [continuing resolution] is a day we're competing with Russia and China with one hand tied behind our back."
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper

While the continuing resolution allows DOD to expand its work on space and cyber, along with other programs such as artificial intelligence, hypersonics and robotics, he said about 200 new programs haven't been able to start.

"Continuing resolutions are killers for us," he said. Because of the continuing resolution, Esper said, the department has $19 billion less than it should have. This has also led to canceled exercises, empty training slots and maintenance slowdowns, the defense secretary said. "This must end," he added.

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks at a podium while also being shown on a large screen to his right.
On Screen
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks at the Reagan National Defense Forum, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., Dec. 7, 2019.
Photo By: David Vergun, DOD
VIRIN: 191207-D-UB488-005Y

"Every day under a CR is a day we're competing with Russia and China with one hand tied behind our back," Esper said.

National Defense Strategy

Esper said he and top military and civilian leaders from each of the services meet every week in the Pentagon to discuss progress on NDS efforts, including focusing on NDS priorities and cutting or eliminating programs that don't.

"This is a significant management shift inside the Pentagon, but we are committed to fully implementing the strategy at every level. ... We have already made solid progress, however to keep up this momentum we depend on a predictable sufficient and timely budget," the defense secretary said.

A man speaks at a podium while also being shown on a large screen to his right.
Simi Valley Scene
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks at the Reagan National Defense Forum, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., Dec. 7, 2019.
Photo By: David Vergun, DOD
VIRIN: 191207-D-UB488-006

Partnerships

The defense secretary also highlighted global developments, particularly DOD's reliance on allies and partners.

Esper said NATO is critical to world peace and security, noting it has started focusing on threats from China, not just regional threats from Russia. 

Nine NATO member nations now meet the 2% GDP commitment, he said, adding that many more are on their way to meeting that goal by 2024.

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks at a lectern.
Forum Remarks
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks at the Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., Dec. 7, 2019.
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 191207-D-ZZ999-101

"We continue to add more partners to global efforts to deter aggression," the defense secretary said, "such as the international maritime security construct in the Strait of Hormuz and the more nascent integrated air and missile defense effort to protect critical infrastructure in the Middle East. And we have secured greater host nation support in countries where U.S. troops are stationed abroad."