WASHINGTON ― Extended budget gridlock would sabotage the U.S. military’s efforts to compete with China, stall new weapons like hypersonic missiles and block $3 billion for defunct Afghan forces from being moved to new priorities, Pentagon officials testified Wednesday.
With fiscal 2022 spending bills four months overdue, the top officers of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Space Force delivered dire warnings about the budgetary chaos caused by stopgap spending measures, known as continuing resolutions, or CRs. The Democrat-led House Appropriations Committee called them to testify Wednesday to pressure Republicans and break a partisan deadlock.
Stopgap bills ban new programs from starting and maintain funding at the level of the prior year. Officials offered grim snapshots of how a hypothetical year-long CR ― which both Republicans and Democrats insist they want to avoid ― would hurt the armed services and the businesses that supply them.
“The impact in the defense industrial base of COVID and inflation will be magnified by a long-term CR,” Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, told lawmakers. “It will hurt shipbuilders, aircraft manufacturers and small, innovative high-tech companies in all of your districts that have made significant investments in both their infrastructure and their workforces to make us a stronger and more capable military.”
For the Navy ― already under fiscal pressure from growing manpower and operations and maintenance costs, and inflation of more than 6% ― a year-long CR would “misalign” $14 billion, and delay plans for 24 new acquisition program starts and 15 production-rate increases, Gilday said. Against China, it would slow maintenance of submarines, where the U.S. has an edge, as well as development of hypersonic missiles, where the U.S. needs an edge.
“They’re accelerating, right, and we’re decelerating,” Gilday said of the Chinese and U.S. militaries.
A full-year CR would risk delivery of the first Columbia-class nuclear submarine, follow-on subs, and a life extension program for the Lockheed-made Trident II D5 ballistic missile.
“Private industry is already challenged in recruiting, training, and retaining a skilled labor force,” Gilday said. “A full-year CR generates enormous disruption to construction, production, maintenance, and repair schedules, increasing the risk of loss of skilled artisans and highly specialized workers. This loss of our skilled workforce will drive up costs, increase production time, and reduce quality of the end products beyond FY-22.”
Nearly a dozen defense trade groups, including the Aerospace Industries Association, National Defense Industrial Association and Professional Services Council, sent a related letter to Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress to say a long-term CR would threaten economic stability and industry’s ability to answer threats to the country.
“It would be a devastating signal to send to our warfighters, their families, our allies and partners, and the dedicated industries that support them, if Congress cannot provide adequate funding for FY22 in a timely fashion,” the Jan. 11 letter reads.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Democrats and Republicans accused each other of intransigence on federal spending bills. Fiscal 2022 is the first year in a decade where discretionary spending levels aren’t fixed by the Budget Control Act.
Republicans are upset at Democrats’ non-defense increases, “poison pill” policy provisions and exclusion of GOP provisions that limit the ways federal funding is used in relation to abortion. A disagreement Wednesday over whether Republicans had actually presented Democrats with a counteroffer highlighted the impasse.
Congress passed a CR last month that expires Feb. 18.
“No one wants a CR. I know you don’t, I don’t, and most responsible people don’t, and we’d all want to get this done by Feb. 18,” said Rep. Ken Calvert, the top Republican defense appropriator. “I’m going to emphasize again, let’s strip these poison pills, let’s put the legacy riders back in and let’s just talk about numbers: a higher defense number, lower non-defense discretionary account.”
It’s not unusual for the government to start the fiscal year (which begins Oct. 1) on a CR, but Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord said the delays have ballooned to an average 118 days over the past dozen years. They averaged 29 days over the 20 years prior, he said.
Under a full-year CR, the Pentagon would lose an estimated $24 billion in purchasing power overall, and $3 billion allocated for Afghan forces last year is “basically not usable now” because DoD doesn’t have the authority to move it elsewhere, McCord said. No such forces exist after the U.S. military withdrew and Afghanistan fell to the Taliban.
“If your committee writes a full-year [defense appropriations] bill, I would anticipate you would take all the money and redistribute it to other priorities, but we are unable to do that for you, or with you under a CR,” McCord said.
In a sign of rising inflation’s strain on the military, McCord also said he had to approve two increases in fiscal 2022 to cover higher fuel prices, and that created a $1.5 billion “bill.”
For the Army, a year-long CR would mean a shortfall of as much as $13 billon for pay, research and acquisition, construction and family programs. Delays would hit 71 programs, including 32 research and development activities as well as long-term efforts to modernize the Army’s depots, arsenals and ammunition plants.
“The compounding effect is that next year we would have to reprioritize those projects, which means that they could potentially bump another project, so it’s almost a double effect on the industrial base and, for that matter, all the programs I described,” said Army Vice Chief of Staff Joseph Martin.
The Marine Corps provided granular programmatic details: A long-term CR would cut fielding plans for the BAE Systems-made Amphibious Combat Vehicle, General Atomics-made MQ-9A Reaper, Lockheed Martin-built KC-130J tanker, Northrop Grumman-made Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile, Lockheed-made F-35 and more. It would prevent a planned 46% increase for munition accounts.
It would also present the Marines with “an effective shortfall” of $200 million in research and development spending, a top priority of the Biden administration’s FY22 budget proposal. That equates to an 8% cut for Marine Corps R&D.
“The competition’s going to make that investment; you’re not,” said Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger. “That’s time lost you cannot catch up because research and development you can’t accelerate but so much.”
The Air Force would lose $3.5 billion in purchasing power, according to its uniformed chief, Gen. C.Q. Brown.
Developing strategic programs, like the intercontinental ballistic missile replacement, known as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, would be delayed past 2029, and the B-21 Raider’s planned rollout this year could be delayed by as much as two years, he said. Other delays would hit a hypersonic missile effort, sixth-generation fighter programs and procurements of the F-35, F-16, KC-46 tanker and C-130.
“A year-long CR allows our adversary just to continue their acceleration while we are, I would say, stuck in neutral,” Brown said.
For the new Space Force, a year-long CR would mean a shortfall of $2 billion, including $700 million in research and development efforts like a radar system to track space-based threats.
Those cuts would come weeks after Russia used a missile to destroy one of its old satellites and as military officials warn China is developing the ability to jam and destroy satellites. Space Force Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, the chief of space operations, warned lawmakers “China’s gone from zero to 60 in space, they are moving at incredible speeds.”
“The continuing resolution is going to impact our ability to modernize our forces, to be there in the face of a growing threat or reduce our readiness and will [have] long-term impacts for our guardians and their families,” he said.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.