Although the threat of a veto hangs over the defense policy bill if it includes a provision to take $18 billion from a wartime spending account to pay for modernization and readiness, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said the same thing was done when the Obama administration took office.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), told an audience at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think-tank defended the House’s action so “the new president can look at these deployments” from keeping 8,448 service members in Afghanistan to commitments in Iraq and Syria.
In its budget forecast, the Pentagon anticipated having about 5,400 service members in Afghanistan for the year to be paid from the wartime spending account.
“We try to turn [readiness and modernization shortfalls] by approving the $574 billion agreed to [in an earlier budget pact], then fund the [Overseas Contingency Operations account] for about half the year . . . exactly what was done between [George W.] Bush and [Barack] Obama.”
He added that when he came to the committee he believed in putting more money into the operations and maintenance accounts to increase readiness. “But there’s only so much you can do for a 30-year-old helicopter.” Modernization was equally important and cheaper in the long run. He used the example of replacing aging F/A-18s with F-35s as an example. “The best way to fix an F-18 is buy an F-35.”
Thornberry divided readiness into “little,” meaning depots, training hours, rotations at combat training centers, etc., and “big,” meaning “how many people you got and modernization.” The “purpose is to prevent war . . . a basic point we sometimes lose track of.”
Rising states, such as China, historically have probed for weak spots, as it is doing in the South China Sea, he said. Noting that he is reading T.R. Fehrenbach’s This Kind of War,”a classic study of the nation’s unpreparedness for the Korean War, Thornberry said, he found it remarkable “how far we fell from 1945 to 1950” in readiness.
Sending service members into combat without proper training and equipment “is wrong in every way I can think of.”
In answer to a question about allies and partners being willing to spend more on their own security, he said, “It still takes U.S. leadership. That’s the crux of the matter.”
Thornberry added that as the Senate and House work out the differences between their two bills that he did not have a catalog of “this is easy; this is hard.” He said historically the Congress approves and the president signs the defense bill and he expects that 53-year tradition to continue.
Among the differences in the bills is requiring women to register for the draft in the House version, he said, “We have not had an examination of the Selective Service System in a very long time.” Rather than jump ahead to possible questions of assigning women in the draft, he said, “the basic question is why do we do this thing” and insist that standards be met.
On renewable energy directives inside the Pentagon, Thornberry said, “There is something to be said for having a diversity of energy sources,” but that needs to be weighed against increased costs.”