Senate Armed Service Committee Proposes Far-Reaching Changes To U.S. Military

Senate Armed Services Committee members (L-R) Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) and ranking member Sen. Jack Reed (R-RI) listen to testimony in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill July 11, 2017 in Washington, D.C. [CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images]

In an article in Breaking Defense last week, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr. pointed out that the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) has requested that Secretary of Defense James Mattis report back by 1 February 2019 on what amounts to “the most sweeping reevaluation of the military in 30 years, with tough questions for all four armed services but especially the Marine Corps.”

Freedberg identified SASC chairman Senator John McCain as the motivating element behind the report, which is part of the draft 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. It emphasizes the initiative to reorient the U.S. military away from its nearly two-decade long focus on counterinsurgency and counterterrorism to prioritizing preparation for potential future Great Power conflict, as outlined in Mattis’s recently published National Defense Strategy. McCain sees this shift taking place far too slowly according to Freedberg, who hints that Mattis shares this concern.

While the SASC request addresses some technological issues, its real focus is on redefining the priorities, missions, and force structures of the armed forces (including special operations forces) in the context of the National Defense Strategy.

The changes it seeks are drastic. According to Freedberg, among the difficult questions it poses are:

  • Make the Marines a counterinsurgency force? [This would greatly help alleviate the U.S. Army’s current strategic conundrum]
  • Make the Army heavier, with fewer helicopters?
  • Refocus Special Operations against Russia and China?
  • Rely less on stealth aircraft and more on drones?

Each of these questions relates directly to trends associated with the multi-domain battle and operations concepts the U.S. armed services are currently jointly developing in response to threats posed by Russian, Chinese, and Iranian military advances.

It is clear that the SASC believes that difficult choices with far-reaching consequences are needed to adequately prepare to meet these challenges. The armed services have been historically resistant to changes involving trade-offs, however, especially ones that touch on service budgets and roles and missions. It seems likely that more than a report will be needed to push through changes deemed necessary by the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman and the Secretary of Defense.

Read more of Freedberg’s article here.

The draft 2019 National Defense Authorization Act can be found here, and the SASC questions can be found in Section 1041 beginning on page 478.

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