PRESIDENT'S PERSPECTIVE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT
Solving the Military Readiness Conundrum
The U.S. military is the greatest and most capable fighting force the world has ever seen, and serving side by side for 39 years with the wonderful men and women who defend the nation is the proudest accomplishment of my life.
Now that I have hung up the uniform and joined the National Defense Industrial Association, my goal — just as it was when I was in the Air Force — is to keep the military at the pinnacle as the very best.
I joined the Air Force at the end of the “hollow force” days of the 1970s and have lived through the Reagan buildup of the 1980s, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, Desert Storm, the fracturing of the former republic of Yugoslavia, the return to Iraq and the start of America’s longest war — Afghanistan. Toward the end, I experienced the rise of an aggressive China and the resurgence of a belligerent Russia.
We now live in the world of near-peer potential adversaries like China and Russia, rising threats from North Korea and Iran, failed states like Yemen and Libya and the ubiquitous threat of terrorism across the entire globe. In this increasingly challenging and changing world, the critical task facing us is how to keep the United States military ready to do whatever is required to defend the nation and our way of life. The key word in that statement is “ready” and I believe that is the most pressing need today, “readiness.” How do we improve and then maintain the readiness of our military and the readiness of our defense industry to supply and support our men and women in uniform?
From the military perspective there are three levers you can adjust to improve your readiness. The first is of course resources. The military needs the operations-and-maintenance funds to build and modernize training infrastructure. We must be able to train for the full spectrum of potential missions from humanitarian assistance to major conflict. Operations, maintenance and infrastructure are a large part of the defense budget, but it is often the first place that gets cut when the budget goes down.
When sequestration took effect because of the lack of a budget deal back in 2013, the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines grounded flying squadrons. The Navy stopped steaming and the Army and Marines stopped field training. We put ourselves into a readiness hole from which we still have not emerged.
This brings us to the next lever we can adjust to improve readiness: time to train. This lever is all about capacity. The rotational requirements today in many cases — and in all the services — do not give forces enough time at home to train for full-spectrum conflict. All the services have to deploy to dwell redlines that they try and maintain, but in today’s environment they often break redlines and are “forced to source” capabilities to meet a critical warfighting need. We currently do not have the capacity to meet the combatant commanders’ requirements around the globe while still having time at home to train.
"The rotational requirements today in many cases do not give forces enough time at home to train for full-spectrum conflict."
This leads us to the last lever we can adjust: how we train. One of the greatest advantages we had over adversaries was the quality of our training. We have to continue to improve and modernize how we train to keep pace with the changing environment and threats. We need to invest in training infrastructure as well as truly achieve full-spectrum live, virtual and constructive training.
Finding the balance of these three components of readiness to give us the most capable and ready force we can possibly have is the most pressing requirement for the Defense Department. From the defense industrial base perspective, there are three imperatives to improving and sustaining the readiness of our armed forces.
First, is the viability and capacity of the industrial base. We are the best trained and equipped fighting force on the planet because of the industries — large and small — that provide their technology, infrastructure and services. But we can no longer afford to take that support for granted, or assume that capacity can be reconstituted overnight.
Secondly, the industrial base is nothing without a trained and ready workforce. Again, we cannot assume the availability of this extraordinarily talented workforce, many with unique skill sets.
Lastly, we can only outpace and ultimately overmatch any potential adversary by remaining on the razor’s edge of innovation, in both technology and processes.
Regardless of whether we pursue advances in national laboratories or seek solutions with industry, we can never afford to stop innovating.
Finding the “sweet spot” of readiness will involve the right balance of resources, capacity and quality of training coupled with an industrial base that is viable and responsive, and supported by an available, world-class and innovative workforce.
As we continue to evolve NDIA to better align government, industry and academia to meet these challenges, we are taking substantial steps to facilitate military readiness.
Entering fiscal year 2018, the association will specifically focus on the health and readiness of our industrial base and workforce. We will examine the issues, elevate the dialogue and pursue the challenges across multiple lines of effort utilizing the combined expertise of the more than 1,600 corporate members.
Concurrently, we will be “innovation thought leaders,” providing expansive forums and comprehensive events focused on advancing our technology and processes. As the most trusted voice of the nation’s defense industrial base, NDIA will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Defense Department to improve and sustain the readiness of our warfighters. They deserve nothing less!