National Defense Strategy to Restore Competitive Edge, Mattis Tells Senate

WASHINGTON --

In the 15 months since Defense Secretary James N. Mattis assumed office, the Defense Department has made steady progress, he told the Senate Appropriations committee panel on defense on Capitol Hill today.

The secretary was joined by Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a hearing on DoD’s portion of President Donald J. Trump’s budget request for fiscal year 2019.

Mattis noted that yesterday the president said the White House will withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action -- also known as the Iran nuclear deal -- terminating U.S. participation and re-imposing sanctions on the Iranian regime. “We will continue to work alongside our allies and partners to ensure that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon and will work with others to address the range of Iran’s malign influence,” he said.

The secretary also emphasized the recently published 2018 National Defense Strategy, which he said “provides clear direction of America’s military to restore its competitive edge in an era of re-emerging long-term great power competition. The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review followed, and calls for the U.S. military to provide a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent that is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready and appropriately tailored to deter 21st century threats and reassure our allies.”

In South Asia and Afghanistan, uncertainty has been replaced by the certainty of the administration’s South Asia Strategy, he said. And in the Middle East, the U.S.-led coalition has dramatically reduced the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s physical caliphate “using a coordinated, whole-of-government approach that works by, with, and through our allies and partners to crush [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s] claim of invincibility and deny them a geographic haven from which to plot murder,” Mattis said.

Omnibus Bill

Two months ago, thanks to the bipartisan support and political courage of Congress, the secretary said, Trump signed the omnibus spending bill that funds the government for the remainder of the fiscal year.

“This law -- along with the two-year budget agreement passed as part of February’s Bipartisan Budget Act -- finally freed us from the inefficient and damaging continuing resolution funding process, now providing the predictable and sufficient funding needed to continue implementing the 2018 National Defense Strategy,” he said.

FY 2019 Budget

The resources requested in the fiscal 2019 budget fulfill DoD’s enduring mission to provide the combat-credible military forces needed to deter war and, if deterrence fails, to win in any conflict, the secretary said. “These forces reinforce America’s traditional tools of diplomacy, ensuring that the president and our diplomats negotiate from a position of strength,” he noted.

Mattis outlined the strategy’s three lines of effort to restore the nation’s competitive military advantage: to build a more lethal force, to strengthen traditional alliances while building new partnerships, and to reform DoD’s business practices for performance and affordability.

“The paradox of war is that an adversary will move against any perceived weakness, so we cannot adopt a single, preclusive form of warfare. We must be able to fight across the entire spectrum of combat. The nation must field sufficient, capable forces to deter conflict. If deterrence fails, we must win. Following this logic, we must maintain a credible nuclear deterrent so these weapons are never used, and a decisive conventional force that includes irregular warfare capability,” he said.

Modernizing the nation’s nuclear deterrent delivery systems and our nuclear command and control is the department’s top priority, and these programs are fully funded in the fiscal 2019 budget, the secretary said.

“The 2019 budget funds enhancements to U.S. missile defense capabilities to defend the homeland, our deployed forces, allies, and partners against an increasingly complex ballistic missile threat. In accordance with the soon-to-be released 2018 Missile Defense Review, this budget requests continued robust support for missile defense capacity and capability to keep pace with advancing threats,” he said.

End-Strength Modest Increase

The proposed budget allows for a modest increase in end strength for the services, which continues increased procurement of preferred and advanced munitions, and allows for 10 combat ships and with support ships to arrest the downward spiral of the Navy’s lethality, and continues production of 77 F-35 Lightning II and 24 F/A-18 Hornet aircraft.

The budget also requests money for systems to enhance communication and resilience in space and prioritizes investment in technological innovation to increase lethality.

“Specifically, cyber, advanced computing, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, autonomy, robotics, miniaturization, additive manufacturing, directed energy, and hypersonics are the very technologies that we need to fight and win wars of the future,” he said.

The secretary said every investment in the strategy-driven fiscal 2019 budget is designed to add to the U.S. military’s lethality. “Those seeking to threaten America’s experiment in democracy should know that if you challenge us, it will be your longest and worst day,” he said.

Alliances and Partnerships

Today, the growing economic strength of allies and partners has enabled them to step up, as demonstrated by the 74 nations and international organizations participating in the campaign to defeat ISIS, and again in the 41 nations standing shoulder to shoulder in NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.

“This year, every NATO ally has increased defense spending, and 15 NATO allies are increasing their defense budgets as a share of gross domestic product, giving credence to the value of democracies standing together,” he said, adding, “Further, our Pacific partners are also strengthening their defenses.”

The urgent reform of DoD’s business practices to allow for solvency and security to the nation, the secretary said of the third line of effort.

“We will continue to establish a culture of performance where results and accountability matter on every expenditure to gain full benefit from every single taxpayer dollar spent on defense,” he said. “We are committed to exercising the utmost degree of financial stewardship and budget discipline within the department. In this regard, this year we will deliver our department’s first full financial audit in history. We will find the problems and take swift action to correct our deficiencies, thereby earning the trust of Congress and the American people.”

He added that DoD is transitioning to a culture of performance and affordability that operates at the speed of relevance. “We will prioritize speed of delivery, continuous adaptation, and frequent modular upgrades. With your continued, critical support, we will shed outdated management and acquisition processes while adopting American industries’ best practices,” Mattis told the committee.

Full-Spectrum Combat Now, In Future

The National Defense Strategy’s three lines of effort will restore DoD’s competitive military advantage, and ensure the nation is prepared to fight across the full spectrum of combat now and in the future, he said.

Mattis thanked the committee for its “strong spirit of bipartisan collaboration.”

“While our trajectory is going in the right direction, our work has just begun,” he continued. “This is a year of opportunity and a chance to continue to work together, building on a strong start as we turn the 2018 National Defense Strategy into action.

“[This] budget, which is designed to execute the 2018 National Defense Strategy is: building a more lethal force and it is also building for the future by restoring current and future readiness; modernizing our nuclear deterrent forces and their command and control systems; building for the future by improving our military’s technological competitive edge; and reforming the department’s business processes to establish a culture of performance and affordability to ensure security and solvency,” Mattis said.

“The strategy is the guidepost for all our actions -- including this year’s strategy-driven budget request, driving meaningful reform to establish an enduring culture of performance, affordability, and agility,” the secretary said.

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter at @MoonCronkDoD)