Secretary Wynne on Trump and Defense Modernization

By Michael Wynne

Recently, Breaking Defense published a piece by Secretary Mike Wynne in which he highlighted why he saw the election of Donald Trump as important for the modernization of American defense.

After eight years of reckless cuts to national defense, discarded “red lines”, emboldened competitors, and discouraged allies, the American people are ready for a new direction in Washington. The time has come for not just a different approach, but a fundamental rethinking of what it takes to keep the United States safe and to advance our national interests, in short, to make America great again in the eyes of the world. In all of the military domains — ground, marine, air, space, and cyberspace — we need to restore US leadership.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have not shown interest in appropriately resourcing our military, with the president presiding over hundreds of billions in dollars in cuts to national defense, an unprecedented readiness crisis, and the shrinking of our military to near historic lows. As a presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton has failed to discuss our national defense at all, refusing to address a subject that will, perhaps more than any other, shape the next Commander-in-Chief’s options on the world stage.

By contrast, Donald Trump has laid out a comprehensive, detailed, and forward-looking vision for the future of the American military. It is predicated on “peace through strength” and a sober appraisal of US national interests. Mr. Trump understands that, without a revitalized and strengthened military, the ability to shape events globally to our advantage is substantially diminished. He understands the crisis our military is facing, both now and long-term if current trends persist, and has vowed at nearly every campaign stop to make rebuilding our military a national project.

The facts are clear and disturbing. Under the Obama administration, the Navy has shrunk to its smallest size since World War I. The Army is the smallest it has been since before World War II. The Air Force is the smallest in its history, and its aircraft are the oldest. Readiness levels across the services are the worst in a generation, with pilots facing significantly reduced cockpit time and deferring critical maintenance, Navy ships and crews deploying as long as 10 months, and Army units are deferring critical training before deployments. The horror story of naval aviators taking spare aircraft parts from museums to keep their planes flying is simply unacceptable for those who wear our nation’s uniform.

Donald Trump’s agenda for the first 100 days of his presidency includes working with Congress, on a bipartisan basis, to repeal defense sequestration. Without this essential step, our military will continue to struggle to plan strategically and resources will be misallocated. He has correctly identified it as the source of so many of our national defense problems, and only by eliminating the sequester can we begin moving in the right direction.

Mr. Trump has called for building toward a 350-ship Navy, a recommendation echoed by the bipartisan, high-level National Defense Panel. He has spoken of his desire to rebuild our surface fleet and undersea capabilities, and to continue investment in the DDG-51 Flight III guided missile destroyer. Further, he has called for modernizing a significant number of the Navy’s Ticonderoga-class cruisers, which the Obama Administration has unsuccessfully tried to dismantle and then refused to seriously modernize. Both our cruisers and the Flight III of DDG-51 are essential to the comprehensive ballistic missile defense system Mr. Trump has proposed, which is critical given the growing missile capabilities of North Korea and Iran.

Mr. Trump has adopted the recommendations of respected defense thinkers at the Heritage Foundation to increase the Air Force’s active fighter inventory to 1,200 and to grow the Marine Corps from 27 to 36 battalions. The Air Force is facing growing challenges as Russia and China invest in new, fifth-generation aircraft. He sees that parity in the Air is unacceptable, and must be rejected as a policy. The Marine Corps, after 15 years of constant ground warfare, is desperately in need of recapitalization.

Under the Trump plan, the Army will grow from 490,000 soldiers today to an active end-strength of 540,00, the number that the Army’s Chief of Staff has told Congress he requires. Given today’s threats, it is only prudent to bring the Army’s force structure back closer with the average of recent decades.

During President Reagan’s rebuilding of our Navy in the 1980s, the US was blessed with a truly national defense industrial base. Today, after decades of defense reductions, our defense industry is significantly smaller and concentrated in a handful of locations. The Trump plan will require a truly national effort, with a reinvestment in places like the Philadelphia Navy Yard that have a long history of service to our military, room for expansion, and proximity to vibrant private industry. Utilizing these assets will relieve stress on our already over-burdened industrial base and facilitate the expansion Mr. Trump envisions.

For example, there exists a real need to invest in the skilled civilian craftsmen who build and repair our Navy’s ships. Just like career military officers receive continuing professional education as they progress toward the pinnacle of their careers, these craftsmen require additional investment in their skills as they approach the “master craftsman” level. To that end, Mr. Trump will establish “centers of excellence” in places like Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Hampton Roads in Virginia; and the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Only by harnessing all of our nation’s capabilities can we truly rebuild the military.

The choice on November 8th is clear. China and Russia are rapidly modernizing their militaries and their cyber abilities. Iran and North Korea are on track to obtain nuclear weapons with sophisticated ballistic missile capabilities. ISIS and other Islamist terror organizations remain serious threats. The United States military must be readied to meet each of these challenges, and only Donald Trump has proposed a serious plan to do so. Our country and the world simply cannot afford another four years of military and national decline.

Mike Wynne held senior positions at the Defense Department including Air Force Secretary and undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology & logistics from 2001 to 2008. 


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