02.06.18

Rounds: Defense Appropriations Bill Brings Much-Needed Stability to Defense Department and Improves Military Readiness

WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today spoke on the Senate floor to urge his colleagues to support the defense appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2018. During last month’s continuing resolution negotiations, Rounds pushed to schedule a vote on the defense appropriations bill and received assurances from leadership that it would be brought to the floor in a timely manner. 

“Providing long-term funding stability for our armed forces is vital to their ability to adequately train, equip and maintain the force,” said Rounds in his speech. “In particular, under short-term, stopgap funding measures known as continuing resolutions, the Defense Department is restricted from starting new programs which is deeply concerning in today’s rapidly-changing threat environment. If we are to adequately recover readiness levels that were lost over the last eight years as well as modernize our armed forces in this increasingly dangerous and complex world, we must give them the funding stability and certainty that continuing resolutions fail to provide.”

Full text of Rounds’ remarks, as prepared for delivery: 

Mr. President, I rise today to urge my colleagues to support the defense appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2018.

 I’d like to start by thanking the Majority Leader for bringing the defense appropriations bill to the Senate floor. 

Providing long-term funding stability for our armed forces is vital to their ability to adequately train, equip and maintain the force. 

In particular, under short-term, stopgap funding measures known as continuing resolutions, the Defense Department is restricted from starting new programs which is deeply concerning in today’s rapidly-changing threat environment.

 If we are to adequately recover readiness levels that were lost over the last eight years as well as modernize our armed forces in this increasingly dangerous and complex world, we must give them the funding stability and certainty that continuing resolutions fail to provide. 

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Readiness, I am pleased that the subcommittee has held two hearings this year on our services' readiness posture.

Today, I would like to share a few examples of readiness issues facing our military force. 

The first are issues plaguing our navy, and both demonstrate the need to adequately fund not only our Navy but all branches of our armed forces.  

The first issue concerns the F/A-18 Hornet aircraft.  

Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral William Moran has stated that our legacy F/A-18A and D Hornets today take twice as many man hours as originally planned for repairs and maintenance.  

He has also stated that "on a typical day in the Navy, about 25 to 30 percent of our jets and our airplanes are in some kind of depot maintenance," and overall just over half are unavailable for operations today.  

To sum up the Admiral’s comments, the navy is putting in twice the maintenance man hours to maintain a fleet that is less than 50 percent available.  

In a crisis situation, the Vice Chief said that, again I’m quoting, "We can and we do put ready airplanes and ready air crew’s forward," but "there's no depth on the bench behind them if we had to surge forces." 

The Marine Corps is also experiencing serious readiness issues with its F-18 fleet. 

And there is a human cost. 

On December 8, 2016, the Marine Corps announced that yet another pilot had been killed as a result of a training accident in the F/A-18 Hornet.

 This was the third Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet “class A” mishap, which is defined as an accident resulting in a death or the complete loss of aircraft, over a month-and-a-half time period.

 In the previous 22 months, the Marine Corps had experienced seven “class A” mishaps flying legacy F/A-18 Hornets.  

 Sadly, some or all of these mishaps might have been avoided with the additional training and maintenance that would have been forthcoming with additional funding.

 Returning to the Navy, its maintenance-related readiness concerns extend to its attack submarine fleet. 

 Admiral Moran recently mentioned that attack submarines are sometimes sent to private shipyards for maintenance because government shipyards are already at capacity with higher priority work, specifically on aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines. 

 But the private shipyards do not have the capacity to take on extra repair work.  

 This lack of shipyard capacity is severely impacting our attack submarine fleet.

 For example the USS Albany attack submarine spent 48 months in the repair yard due to repeated delays as the workforce focused its attention on aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines, meaning an entire crew spent years waiting for a deployment that never came. 

 Worse still, the USS Boise attack submarine wasn't even put into the shipyard last summer because the shipyard workload was so far over workforce capacity.

 As a result, that boat is currently sitting in Norfolk, Virginia, and is not certified to dive while it awaits maintenance. 

 In fact, the Boise will not be able to rejoin the fleet until 2020 or even later. 

 That means that this vital navy asset will be unavailable for at least 48 months. 

In fact a maintenance backlog has docked 15 nuclear-power attack submarines for a total of 177 months, or almost 15 years.

 Further, while I am discussing some serious navy readiness challenges, all of our services face readiness challenges. 

 Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson recently said that “the fiscal 2018 continuing resolution is actually delaying our efforts to increase the readiness of the force, and risk accumulates over time. We are stretching the force to the limit, and we need to start turning the corner on readiness.”

 With a shortage of nearly 2000 pilots of about 20,000 total, Secretary Wilson went on to say that current active duty pilots were burning out because the Air Force was too small for what the nation is asking.

 “Our biggest need right now is for a higher and stable budget to provide security and solvency for the nation,” she said.

 According to Defense Secretary James Mattis, operating under a continuing resolution for 2018 runs the risk of delaying vital projects and increasing their costs, including 37 Navy projects, 16 Air Force projects and 38 Army projects.

 The projects that could be impacted include progress on new trainer aircraft, weapons systems and important training programs.

 The most important things that congress can do to solve these problems are provide funding stability, and avoid arbitrary budget caps that constrain defense spending below that which is required to protect our nation. 

 This bill does both.

 More specifically, only by removing these caps can we avoid the Department of Defense having to make difficult choices that are so devastating for our armed forces.

 In particular, we must avoid their having to make the false choice of paying for readiness while assuming risk for modernization or vice-versa.

 The American people expect us to adequately defend America next year and for every year to come.

 This requires us to put an end to Continuing Resolutions and remove arbitrary budget caps and the threat of sequestration.

 Only by doing so, can congress fulfill its number one responsibility – keeping Americans safe.

 I conclude by again thanking the majority leader for bringing the Fiscal Year 2018 defense appropriations bill to the floor.

 I ask all of my colleagues to support it, get it to the president’s desk as soon as possible and finally bring an end to the defense component of a CR that, with arbitrary budget caps, is so severely impacting the readiness of our armed forces. 

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