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GAO report sees U.S. military readiness slipping


As President Biden prepares to release the outlines of his first budget request to Congress, a just-released report from the Government Accountability Office says America’s military services are not falling short of their readiness goals.

The congressional watchdog report shines an even brighter spotlight on Friday’s expected budget unveiling, with Mr. Biden facing conflicting pressures from within his own party on whether to build on former President Donald Trump’s Pentagon budget increases, maintain current spending levels or heed cries from liberals to slash defense money to pay for domestic social programs.

Even after nearly two decades of unrelenting combat, the Army came out on top compared to the other services in the new GAO survey. Meanwhile the Navy is picking up the rear, largely as a result of persistent maintenance issues that have kept much of the fleet in port.

“Every warfighting domain … is now contested as potential adversaries, most notably China and Russia, have developed and enhanced their own capabilities,” according to the report. “The GAO found that reported domain readiness did not meet readiness recovery goals identified by the military services.”

The Pentagon defines “readiness” as the ability of U.S. military forces to fight and meet the demands of assigned missions. The GAO investigators reviewed readiness recovery plans from the Pentagon and the individual military services for fighting on land, sea, in the air, in outer space and even in cyberspace. A global mission and lengthy deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere have taken their toll, the GAO reported.

“We found that the military services had reported persistently low readiness levels, which they attributed to emerging and continued demands on their forces, reduced force structure and increased frequency and length of deployment,” the authors wrote.

The investigators analyzed two factors the Pentagon considers: resource readiness and mission readiness. U.S. ground-oriented forces fared best in the GAO study, including everything from Army infantry brigade combat teams to Marine Corps artillery battalions.

According to the report, the Army is ahead both in resource readiness ratings and mission-capability readiness ratings. The Army has made a push in recent years to modernize its arsenal of armor and artillery systems, with varying degrees of success.

But, it’s a mixed bag for the other services.

The Navy’s readiness capabilities both dipped from FY 2017 through FY 2019. The air, space and cyber domains each increased their resource readiness rating but lost ground on being able to carry out the missions expected of them.

“The Navy identified limited maintenance capacity at public and private shipyards as the primary challenge for recovering ship and submarine readiness,” the authors stated.

The national defense portion of Mr. Biden’s “topline” budget is expected to be largely flat and spark a fierce battle on Capitol Hill between Republicans and pro-defense Democrats and Mr. Biden’s left-wing supporters.

Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he’s pushing for a 3% to 5% increase in real growth for the Pentagon’s budget each year for the foreseeable future, saying the money is needed given China’s rapid increase in defense spending and aggressive behavior in the hotly contested Indo-Pacific region.

“If we really want to send the right signal to Beijing, a signal that says you can’t ever win against us, we need a sustained investment in our defense,” Mr. Inhofe argued last month. “Chinese military modernization has been nothing short of astounding. Their ability to move fast and increase production rates is leaving us in the dust.”

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