Home » Opinion | America’s Military Is Not Prepared for War

Opinion | America’s Military Is Not Prepared for War

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“To be prepared for war,” George Washington said, “is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” President Ronald Reagan agreed with his forebear’s words, and peace through strength became a theme of his administration. In the past four decades, the American arsenal helped secure that peace, but political neglect has led to its atrophy as other nations’ war machines have kicked into high gear. Most Americans do not realize the specter of great power conflict has risen again.

It is far past time to rebuild America’s military. We can avoid war by preparing for it.

When America’s senior military leaders testify before my colleagues and me on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee behind closed doors, they have said that we face some of the most dangerous global threat environments since World War II. Then, they darken that already unsettling picture by explaining that our armed forces are at risk of being underequipped and outgunned. We struggle to build and maintain ships, our fighter jet fleet is dangerously small, and our military infrastructure is outdated. Meanwhile, America’s adversaries are growing their militaries and getting more aggressive.

In China, the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, has orchestrated a historic military modernization intended to exploit the U.S. military’s weaknesses. He has overtaken the U.S. Navy in fleet size, built one of the world’s largest missile stockpiles and made big advances in space. President Vladimir Putin of Russia has thrown Europe into war and mobilized his society for long-term conflict. Iran and its proxy groups have escalated their shadow war against Israel and increased attacks on U.S. ships and soldiers. And North Korea has disregarded efforts toward arms control negotiations and moved toward wartime readiness.

Worse yet, these governments are materially helping one another, cooperating in new ways to prevent an American-led 21st century. Iran has provided Russia with battlefield drones, and China is sending technical and logistical help to aid Mr. Putin’s war. They are also helping one another prepare for future fights by increasing weapons transfers and to evade sanctions. Their unprecedented coordination makes new global conflict increasingly possible.

That theoretical future could come faster than most Americans think. We may find ourselves in a state of extreme vulnerability in a matter of a few years, according to a growing consensus of experts. Our military readiness could be at its lowest point in decades just as China’s military in particular hits its stride. The U.S. Indo-Pacific commander released what I believe to be the largest list of unfunded items ever for services and combatant commands for next year’s budget, amounting to $11 billion. It requested funding for a raft of infrastructure, missile defense and targeting programs that would prove vital in a Pacific fight. China, on the other hand, has no such problems, as it accumulates the world’s leading hypersonic arsenal with a mix of other lethal cruise and attack missiles.

Our military leaders are being forced to make impossible choices. The Navy is struggling to adequately fund new ships, routine maintenance and munition procurement; it is unable to effectively address all three. We recently signed a deal to sell submarines to Australia, but we’ve failed to sufficiently fund our own submarine industrial base, leaving an aging fleet unprepared to respond to threats. Two of the three most important nuclear modernization programs are underfunded and are at risk of delays. The military faces a backlog of at least $180 billion for basic maintenance, from barracks to training ranges. This projects weakness to our adversaries as we send service members abroad with diminished ability to respond to crises.

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