Readiness Up Across the Force, Chairman Says

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (March 05, 2020) -- The fiscal year 2021 Defense Department budget request is driven by the National Defense Strategy, and also furthers the department's readiness and modernization efforts, said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"We are recovering from readiness shortfalls and modernization deferments from 20 years of continuous warfare and a decade of fiscal instability," said Gen. Mark A. Milley during testimony yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. "This year's budget builds on previous readiness and modernization gains and I believe the fiscal year 2021 budget submission is the best allocation of resources in a balanced way to support the NDS. It builds a more lethal force, it strengthens allies and partners, and it reforms the department for greater performance and affordability."

While Milley didn't provide examples of readiness gains for either equipment or personnel, he told lawmakers that substantial gains have been made over the last two years.

"I can tell you that [readiness] has improved," he said. "I would put it in about a third or so, as I look at these numbers -- about a third improved over the numbers that you probably saw anywhere between 12 and 24 months ago."

Milley said that with the continued support of Congress, all the military services "are scheduled to meet their readiness recovery goals in this future year's defense plan."

The fiscal year 2021 budget request, Milley said, is driven by the National Defense Strategy, which identifies both China and Russia as long-term strategic competitors.

"Our competitive advantage has eroded, and no one should have any doubt about that," Milley said. "China and Russia are increasing their military capabilities to outmatch the United States and its allies in order to exert their global influence, and China's objective is to do that by mid-century."

As part of efforts to build a more lethal force -- one of the strategic priorities of the National Defense Strategy -- Milley explained to lawmakers why some existing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, which have always been in high demand, may be retired.

"Many of the ISR systems that we have today that are in very high demand are very, very useful against terrorists and insurgents, against fixed sites, etc.," Milley said. "They have clear penetration capability when there is no significant air defense threat or there are no other types of threats."

But those types of ISR capabilities, he said, are less useful against peer or near-peer competitors.

"If you are talking about great power competition, which is what this NDS talks about, and what this budget is all about, that is a different type of ISR," Milley said. "So we are trying to divest ourselves of the ISR that is not particularly useful against a Russia or China or even [the high-density] air defense systems of an Iran or North Korea, and invest in those ISR systems that do have penetration capability. ... It makes no sense to me to continue to buy stuff that isn't in alignment with the NDS."