As a result of defense budget instability, the Air Force is trying to figure out how to maintain current operations with fewer resources. It’s not possible, says retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, stressing that a failure to modernize aircraft will result in an Air Force that struggles to complete its missions or even get off the ground. He speaks from personal experience.
In 1977, Deptula flew an F-15 for the first time. In 2008, his son, Lt. David A. Deptula II, flew the same F-15 at Kadena Air Force Base in Japan. These planes are operating well beyond their expected service lives because successive Administrations and Congresses have failed to properly modernize the Air Force. With hundreds of billions cut from defense in recent years and sequestration’s effects still unclear, Congress needs to make a stronger commitment to the services to ensure they continue operating sufficiently.
The Air Force isn’t the only service suffering such shortfalls. The Navy is facing unprecedented fleet-size reductions. Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. John M. Paxton Jr., argues that a hollow force is imminent for a military that does not take long-term readiness into account when enacting measures that haphazardly cut programs. Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno has testified before both the House and Senate Armed Forces Committees expressing his concern for his military branch, which now faces reduced training, insufficient weapons modernization, and a drawdown of both active and reserve personnel. Under Secretary of the Army Joseph Westphal says that “with sequestration in place and deep cuts requested, the Army is concerned about how it can train, equip and sustain Soldiers to be ready when called upon.”
Military readiness is at a tipping point. The United States currently has the world’s leading force structure and best-trained personnel, but few realize the long-term effects of cutting defense due to a perception of relative peace. However, as demonstrated in Benghazi, North Korea, and elsewhere, the world is not becoming a safer place.
If the U.S. is to remain a global power, it needs a legitimate national security strategy, and the resources required to execute it. The U.S. government needs to rein in spending, but it cannot continue to cut national defense. The military did not cause America’s fiscal woes. If the President wants to be fiscally responsible, he needs to address the real debt drivers of entitlement spending. The Administration and Congress need to remember that their primary responsibility is to provide for the common defense.
Sarah Wallace is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.