WASHINGTON — Another senior US military leader has named Russia the nation's top security threat — the incoming chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Mark Milley, who called it, "the only country on Earth that retains a nuclear capability to destroy the United States, so it's an existential threat to the United States."

Commander of Army Forces Command, Milley, in line to take over for Gen. Raymond Odierno, on Tuesday cited Russia's nuclear capability and its aggressive actions against neighbors since 2008. Milley echoed the remarks of Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford last week at Dunford's confirmation hearing for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing that China, North Korea, the Islamic State group and Iran, "Each in their own different way represent threats, security threats, to the United States."

In Europe, Milley said he favors an increase of US ground forces on a temporary rotational basis, necessary to reassure allies there and deter Russian aggression. To that end, the Army is already prepositioning equipment and engaging in exercises.

He also said that Ukraine should be supplied with lethal defensive armaments.

"Lethal equipment, I think, is something we should consider. And I would be in favor of lethal defensive equipment," Milley told SASC Chairman Sen. John McCain.

The biggest headline to come from the hearing is could be that if legal issues could be resolved he thinks it would be appropriate, in some cases, to arm soldiers manning recruiting stations. The comment came amid questions about the deaths of four Marines and a sailor who were killed Thursday in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

"I think under certain conditions on both military installations and ... recruiting stations ... we should seriously consider it," Milley said. "In some cases, I think, it's appropriate."

On Iraq and the contentious issue of American boots on the ground, Milley said forward-deployed joint terminal attack controllers, who are trained to call in and direct firepower on enemy positions, "should be seriously considered." He said the same of "advisers going forward with units," with the caveat, "there are lots of issues with the security of our people and the risks associated with that."

But Milley said it was less about what the US should be doing, than the Iraqis, who suffer from a deficit in trainees and leadership. Iraqi forces, being trained by the US to fight ISIS, suffer from a lack of proper leadership, Milley said, and — since the departure of US troops — a lack of proper pay, training, equipment and "competent, capable, committed leadership."

Lawmakers from both sides railed against sequestration budget cuts that hit the Army while it faces complex global challenges.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Sen. John McCain noted that Milley would oversee an Army buffeted by a budget-driven force-level reduction. The service is due to fall from a peak of 570,000 to 490,000 this year, 450,00 over the next two years, and to 420,000 if sequestration cuts continue.

On acquisition and modernization, Milley — echoing Odierno's recent remarks — said he favors a greater role for the service chiefs in the acquisitions process. Army leaders have input into requirements, Milley said, but they would benefit from increased authority in linking requirements, resources and acquisitions.

"I think you would agree, Gen. Milley, that when our assumptions about the world change, we must either adapt our conclusions to the new realities, or scale back our ambitions to meet our reduced means," McCain said. "Instead, the administration and many in the Congress are trying to have it both ways: asking our soldiers to take on a growing set of missions with fewer and fewer resources. This is not just about reversing the effects of sequestration. It is about replacing the arbitrary spending caps on defense that were imposed under the Budget Control Act of 2011. That is the only way that we will get back to a truly strategy-driven defense budget."

Sen. Jack Reed, the SASC ranking member, noted that Milley would oversee the Army, "during a time when the United States faces a multitude of challenges abroad."

"While the conflict areas around the world continue to increase, the amount of resources devoted to the Army continues to decrease. Earlier this month it was announced that over the next two years, the Army would convert two Infantry Brigade Combat Teams to battalion task forces. These changes were necessary in order for the Army to continue to reduce its end strength with a final goal of 450,000 soldiers by the end of fiscal year 2017.  In addition to these reductions, the Army also intends to cut approximately 17,000 civilian personnel, although, it is my understanding, the Army has not identified which installations will be impacted by those reductions."

McCain called out the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle programs, which "aim to enhance tactical mobility, command and control, medical evacuation, and other critical combat functions, while significantly improving the protection and safety of our soldiers."

He said the Army must "learn the lessons of its failed acquisition programs — a record that has been particularly dismal." Citing programs such as the canceled Ground Combat Vehicle, McCain said "billions of dollars have been wasted on programs that never became operational."

"These and other failures also reflect the inefficiency and dysfunction that have crippled our defense acquisition system more broadly: unwarranted optimism in cost and schedule estimates, funding instability, requirements creep, immature technology, excessive risk-taking, and concurrency between testing and production.

US President Barack Obama in May nominated Milley to become the next Army chief of staff. If confirmed, Milley will replace Gen. Ray Odierno.

Milley previously served under the nominee for Joint Chiefs chairman, Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, as the commander of NATO ground forces, and commanded Army III Corps and Fort Hood, Texas — notably in 2014, during the second fatal shooting spree at the base. 

Coming from Forces Command, Milley will lead an Army that is shrinking under budget pressure, stretching to meet demands in the Mideast, Europe, the Pacific and other global hot spots. In remarks last October, Milley stressed the importance of better integrating the Guard and reserve, a hot button issue under consideration by a congressional Commission on the Future of the Army.

Lawmakers also used the venue to express their displeasure over TK//

The Army went to Sikorsky, while its parent company United Technologies Corp., which was the midst of soliciting bids for a potential sale, to say that if Congress did not allow the Army to move forward with its proposed aviation restructuring initiative (ARI) — which calls for the National Guard to transfer its AH-64 Apaches to the active Army in exchange for active Army UH-60 Black Hawks — the Army would have to raid its Black Hawk accounts so the service can instead buy the Apache helicopters it wants.

"The Army leaked this to Sikorsky who of course became very worried because the multi-year contracts on Black Hawk are a huge revenue stream for them," said one Hill source. "The Army basically leaked an idea to Sikorsky ... to strong-arm Sikorsky into lobbying for the Army's ARI because they feared their potential asking price would tank if potential buyers thought the ... contract was in danger."

Defense giant Lockheed Martin will buy American helicopter maker Sikorsky Aircraft from United Technologies for $9 billion in cash, UTC announced Monday.

Lawmakers had been pushing back against plans to transfer Apaches from the Army National Guard. Dozens of House lawmakers signed on to a July 9 letter asking the heads of the authorization and appropriation committees to halt the transfers.

The Army's position has been that its restructure is the best option amid shrinking budgets, particularly for Army aviation, and without permission to migrate Apaches, the service would have no choice than to buy the attack helicopters at $40 million per copy.

Sikorsky CEO Robert Leduc, in a July 8 letter to Guard adjutant generals, asked their support in seeking a compromise plan.

According to Leduc's letter, Army acquisitions officials told the company that delaying Apache turn-ins would result in the Black Hawk program becoming "a principal bill payer" to help fund a $4.6 billion procurement of up to 115 new Apaches. The company was also told, he said, the Army would forgo a its Multi-Year 9, or MYIX, contract for Black Hawks in 2017 and beyond to cut its Black Hawk buy from 72 to 18 — a drop that contrasts with Sikorsky's production of 90 Black Hawks per year for the last five years.

According to Leduc, such a move would lead to Black Hawk production breaks of more than a year, a doubling of the helicopter's unit cost and delays in both fielding of modern Black Hawk helicopters to the Guard and retiring its "A" Models. This would yield a "potential loss of thousands of jobs and critical impact to our manufacturing capability and the industrial base," the letter said.

Multiyear contracts are thought to provide the Army with cost savings while stabilizing the industrial base; The TK contract TK. The Army's multiyear contract for remanufactured Apaches and was in Army-wide staffing, expected to go to principal staffing in early August. The Black Hawk multiyear contract, MYIX, is expected to reach principal staffing in mid August. If agreed to and approved, both would serve for fiscal 2017 through 2021.