As members of the national security community, we believe that a stronger defense makes for a safer America. In the midst of a historic transition in government that will result in many changes to strategic priorities and defense policy, we anticipate new opportunities to engage with defense leaders to make a positive impact during 2017.
While we all know that the new president will be sworn into office this month, I would also like to recognize that a new presidential administration and an incoming Congress heralds massive change throughout our government.
Over the next year, the president will appoint 300 civilian defense leaders, 60 of whom require Senate confirmation. In Congress, there will be 57 new members in the House and seven new senators. On top of the general turnover, more and more members of Congress do not have military experience. From 1974 to 2016, the number of members who served in the military declined from about 75 percent to less than 20 percent. This generally reflects trends in reduced military service across our country, but it increases the need for the National Defense Industrial Association to provide a persuasive case in favor of a strong national defense.
As we experience substantial turnover in executive leadership and Congress, the global security environment is one area where I expect continuity with recent trends. Countries like Russia, China, North Korea and Iran will continue their efforts to undermine the longstanding international order that supported regional and global stability during the past 60 years. Some of these countries will also seek to more aggressively increase their influence or test the United States’ international commitments during a time of leadership transition. All of this will take place during a time when U.S. forces remain actively engaged in military operations in places like Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. History has shown that international challenges often occur during the early stages of a new administration.
The growth in global challenges is occurring at a time when rapid technological change is reducing many operational advantages the U.S. military possessed for the past several decades. Potential adversaries continue to pursue new options for the deployment of nuclear weapons, develop longer range surveillance and strike weapons, and undermine the cybersecurity of U.S. government and industry information systems. For the past several years, senior defense leaders have warned against the narrowing technological edge of our military forces.
Based on the confluence of leadership transition with growing geopolitical threats and rapid technological change, I expect to see many policy changes during the coming year. This presents NDIA with new opportunities, and I believe we are well positioned to make a positive contribution. Throughout our almost 100-year history, the association has played a significant educational role in facilitating a forum for collaboration between government and industry on national security issues. We’ve hosted conferences, conventions and roundtable discussions that allowed government and industry stakeholders to collaborate on everything from new defense systems to appropriate contracting mechanisms.
In the next year, we need to expand on this role to offer incoming government officials a source of insight and continuity. As many incoming officials will likely not have long track records of military service, it is imperative that we expand on our educational mission to emphasize the value of strong national security policy and the critical role that industry plays.
One of the top priorities for the year should be to support efforts to eliminate the dangerous spending reductions associated with sequestration, which would reduce defense spending by about 8 percent beginning next January. At a time when our country faces growing national security risks, we need to ensure that our military remains the best trained and equipped in the world, and sequestration threatens to undermine both. During the campaign, President-elect Donald Trump supported the repeal of sequestration and moderate increases in defense spending. Since this is a goal shared by many other defense leaders, I believe that we may have a path to a long-term solution in the coming year.
Another aspect of our outreach should be to raise awareness of the contribution the defense industrial base provides to our national security. Since the 1940s, the defense industry developed the fundamental technologies that ensured U.S. battlefield success. Many of these technologies also spilled over to spur much of our economic growth during this time. The phones that many of us carry today are a combination of technologies like semiconductors, GPS and wireless communications that were developed for, or first used by, the military.
The growing challenges that the military faces point to a need for the new capabilities that will be developed and produced by our defense industry. During the past several years, outgoing national security leaders initiated efforts to begin to develop future generations of military technologies to ensure that U.S. forces retain their technological advantages against any potential adversary. We should work to ensure that these efforts are not discarded during the transition; instead, they should provide the starting place for research-and-development efforts that usher in a new era in defense innovation.
NDIA is prepared to step forward as a thought leader focused on some of the most important national security policy issues of our time. Over the next year, we intend to step up our engagement with government officials and industry executives to improve the defense acquisition process so that it is more reactive and better resourced to ensure that the American military is ready for the future.
The year ahead will be full of change. President John F. Kennedy once said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
Let’s look ahead to that future to make a more secure future for our country.
Sid Ashworth is chair of the NDIA board of directors.