But while there is general agreement that the Pentagon’s budget can and should be larger, Democrats
already have signaled that they will resist any hike in
defense spending that does not come with a matching increase to non-defense accounts, including State
Department funding, which has been targeted for cuts.
That resistance will make it difficult to hit Trump’s
planned $603 billion base budget for defense, let alone
the one set by Republicans on the Armed Services panels. Democrats still can block any funding legislation
with just 40 votes.
“As much as I would love, on this committee, to be
able to pull defense out and say we can ignore every-
thing else, we aren’t just members of the defense
committee,” Washington Rep. Adam Smith, the top
House Armed Services Democrat, said at the April 5
hearing. “We are members of Congress and we’re
Nonetheless, the service chiefs and other senior
officials have made clear that they need more —
and more reliable — funding to meet the military’s
requirements, now and in the future.
For the Navy, one of its most pressing — and
expensive — issues is its strike-fighter shortfall, as
the service waits for the F-35B and F-35C Lightning
II fighters to come online. But the Navy and its boosters on Capitol Hill say more ships are needed to meet
deployment demands around the world while also
maintaining ships and training Sailors.
During that same hearing, Chief of Naval Operations
Adm. John Richardson signaled that the demands on
the naval force have increased since the beginning of
former President Barack Obama’s administration and
will continue to do so in the future, making an investment in Navy assets critical.
“In the intervening eight years, China has com-
pletely modernized their fleet and they are operating
not just around their shores, but around the world
now,” Richardson told the panel. “Russia was actually
considered an ally at that time. We were exercising
with Russia and now it’s a much different picture.”
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller
painted an equally dire picture for his force, arguing
that deployments have increased — and equipment
has become more battered — since 2001. Back then, he
said, the Marine Corps had 1980s-era gear.
“You go to Camp Lejeune, Camp Pendleton today,
you drive around, that’s the same stuff we’re driving
today,” Neller told the committee. “It’s been modified
and been re-engineered. It’s been through the depot.”
The Marine Corps has one squadron of F-35s and
has replaced its CH- 46 helicopters with V- 22 Osprey
tiltrotor aircraft, but modernization has been slow
going across the board, thanks to funding caps and
continuing resolutions (CRs) to begin at least the first
several months of each fiscal year. Those CRs, which
the military has called destructive, fund accounts at
previous-year levels and do not allow the services to
sign any new contracts.
“We need to have the stability of a known funding
stream so that we can get the best price for modern
gear, that we can plan our training, that we know we’re
going to go and we know we’re going to ride either on
an airplane or ship,” Neller told the committee.
Smith and many other Democrats agree that the
military needs more funding to improve the readiness
of forces and modernize for the future. But, at least as
fiscal 2018 budget discussions get under way, they seem
unwilling to budge on their demand that non-defense
accounts, many of which are security-related — such as
the Coast Guard’s own funding under the Department of
Homeland Security — enjoy a similar increase.
For the last several years, the two parties have
managed to avert the worst of the budget cuts by
agreeing to smaller increases to the caps on defense
and non-defense deals. The kind of increases Trump
and GOP hawks are eyeing for defense, however, will
require a grand budget bargain that has proven elusive
since the caps were first put in place in 2011.
At a time when there is not much appetite for bargaining on Capitol Hill, the military services may have
to sit tight for at least another year.
Marines Plan for
‘Lightning Carrier’ Option
The Marine Corps has given thought to the possibility of being required to deploy on the Navy’s
big-deck amphibious assault ships (LHAs and LHDs)
large numbers of F-35Bs, depending on the missions
In the 2017 Marine Aviation Plan, released in late
March, the service discusses options for the air combat
element onboard big-deck amphibs with deck loads
for high-end combat operations that might involve up
to 20 F-35Bs onboard rather than the normal six. This
[CVN-L] concept, which the Corps calls the “Lightning
Carrier,” is modeled on the “Harrier Carrier” concept when amhibs carried entire squadrons of AV-8B
Harrier II aircraft in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Amphibious assault ships serve predominantly to
project MEUs [Marine Expeditionary Units] ashore but —
as required — will be prepared to ‘reconfigure’ to provide
ready decks for 16-20 F-35Bs and 4 VARS [V- 22 Aerial
Refueling System]-equipped MV-22s for a high-end fight