WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army will once again have to shelve modernization efforts if Congress fails to break free of crippling budget caps, said the head of the service’s resourcing branch.
For several years the Army has had to choose to prioritize funding to meet its force readiness requirements over funding the development of capabilities needed to build a future force. The situation will only get worse from here, said Lt. Gen. John Murray at a Feb. 7 Senate Armed Services Airland Subcommittee hearing on Army modernization.
“The Army has reached an inflection point,” Murray, Army G-8, told senators at the hearing. “It is the same thing I told you last year, we can no longer afford to choose between near-term readiness and modernization. Specific to modernization, we can no longer afford to choose between incremental upgrades of existing equipment and developing new capabilities, we have definitely reached a point where we’ve got to be able to do both.”
Beyond the threat of the continuation of crippling budget caps, Congress has been unable to pass a fiscal year 2018 appropriations bill, instead opting to fund the defense budget at last year’s levels using continuing resolutions.
The Army has at least 16 programs it can’t start without fiscal year 2018 funding that would help modernize the force and has had to slow production lines — particularly munition lines — to deal with the lack of funding measured against what it requested for FY18, Maj. Gen. John George, who is the director of force development in the Army’s Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-8, said Feb. 6 at a trade conference in Washington.
House GOP leadership introduced a continuing resolution on Feb. 5 that averts a government shutdown through March 23 with a $659.2 billion defense spending measure for fiscal 2018 and health care items. It would be the fifth continuing resolution since entering the FY18 on Oct. 1.
And the Senate leaders reached a two-year deal announced Feb. 7 that would set defense spending at $700 billion for 2018 and $716 billion for 2019.
While Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., seemed hopeful Congress would reach a deal on Feb. 8 — the deadline to make a budget deal or extend the CR — he asked Murray what would be the consequences for Army readiness and modernization should Congress be unable to reach a deal.
“I think it would be devastating,” Murray said. “If we don’t get a budget, if we go to a sequester, if we go to furlough again, we would not be able to do both.”
Murray added the only new developmental program the Army has started in the last two years is the Mobile Protected Firepower capability — its quest for a new light tank for infantry brigade combat teams.
“We have no other new developmental combat vehicles in production and that is not even in production,” Murray said. The Army is in the process of collecting bid samples from industry.
“We have been focused solely on keeping equipment we have as modern as we possibly could while others have modernized their fleets,” Murray said. “We have no new aircraft in production and we are still flying the same aircraft that we were flying in the 1980s.”
Even worse, he said, if the Army continues having to prioritize current force readiness over modernization, “we would be using the same fleets for the next 20 to 30 years.”
Murray added if Congress funds the FY18 budget “anywhere near” the levels authorized in the FY18 National Defense Authorization Act passed late last year, “we will be able to start the development of new systems that we will need on the future battlefield.”
The Army has been “maintaining parity as best we could by incremental upgrades of systems, but there is nothing leap-ahead about what we are doing,” Murray said. What “we want to do is go after the system that will provide us the overmatch into the future against a peer adversary.”
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.