Congress, our military is losing the ability to win. Let’s get the defense budget right

It doesn’t matter if it’s the Golden State Warriors, the Denver Broncos, or the U.S. Women’s National Team, the world’s best sports teams are built on three basic things: the best people, the best training, and the best equipment. The same is true of defense forces: people, training and equipment are the three legs of a strong and ready military. Unfortunately, devastating budget cuts have left the U.S. military short of all three. Consequently, our armed forces are rapidly  losing their ability to win. Here are three pillars of a championship team and world class military

1. People

Since 2011, the U.S. defense budget has been cut by 25 percent in real terms. Imagine what would happen to the Denver Broncos if the team’s budget was cut by the same amount. You would have to cut personnel. You might start with trimming your front office staff and dropping an assistant coach or two.  But ultimately, you’re going to have to drop players, too.

The U.S. Army is in the process of dropping from 570,000 soldiers to 450,000 soldiers—roughly a 20 percent cut. A 20 percent cut would drop the Bronco’s roster from 46 to 37 players. They could  still field a team, but they’d be light on subs and backups. During a game, injuries and fatigue would quickly eat through their bench, forcing players to play more than they should, play injured, or play positions they aren’t prepared to play.

In the military, fewer people mean that men and women in uniform get stretched thin to cover all the missions. More deployments, more time away from their families, more wear and tear on their bodies from physically demanding missions. Service members are being asked to do more with less, and at some point that becomes unsustainable.

2. Training

But a 25 percent budget cut doesn’t just affect the size of the team. At some point, if you still want to play football, you can’t cut your team any smaller. That means you cut elsewhere. Training dollars are easy to save—just cut a week or two from preseason practice.

But less training means poorer performance. In sports or in combat, practicing together is vital to increasing the team’s cohesion and ability to win. Individual players might be able to keep their skills up by themselves, but the Broncos won’t win another Super Bowl if they don’t spend hundreds and hundreds of hours practicing together as a team. And the same is true of an Army brigade, a Navy ship or an Air Force squadron.

Military training budgets have been cut dramatically, and we are starting to see the consequences. Army and Marine Corps fatal aircraft accidents are increasing, and the lack of training is a primary factor. The Air Force reports that less than half of its units are fully trained, and the Army reports only one-third of its brigades are fully trained. On the battlefield, inadequate training produces unnecessary casualties.

3. Equipment

But even with the cuts in personnel and training, we still haven’t found 25 percent in total savings. The next stop is equipment. For the Broncos that might mean flying in cramped, cut-rate charter planes and foregoing a new training facility with cutting-edge exercise equipment and monitoring devices. Good football teams can play through equipment challenges with limited consequences for a while. But in other sports, bad equipment can doom athletes to almost certain failure. A bad car won’t win in NASCAR; an old club can cut more than 40 yards off a pro golfer’s drive.

In the military, bad equipment can cause needless casualties and mission failure. Bad equipment can result from underfunding maintenance, like in the Marine Corps where mechanics now raid museums for aircraft parts. And even good equipment goes bad with age. The average age of the Air Force’s main bomber, the B-52, is 53 years. The Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAV) used to land Marines on beaches are, on average,  35 years old.

And sometimes, the problem isn’t bad equipment; it’s the lack of equipment, like the Navy’s lack of ships.

A winning team needs good people, good training and good equipment—and all in sufficient quantity to accomplish its mission. Budget cuts have already weakened our military in all three areas, and military leaders say it is only getting worse.  Instead of letting our national defense hollow out, Congress should start rebuilding it by getting the defense budget right.

Justin T. Johnson is senior policy analyst for defense budgeting in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense

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