A clear message came out of the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army held in Washington, D.C., last week: Army readiness — the most important aspect of Army training and capability — is heavily dependent on predictable and sustainable budgets.
Predictable, because the Army, year after year, can’t be playing a guessing game when it comes to training schedules, modernization and the plethora of other funding issues that Army leaders have to deal with on a regular basis.
And sustainable, because the Army can’t be in a state of downsizing when the world, seemingly every day, is becoming a more volatile place. There are a lot of armies spread around the globe, some bigger than the U.S. Army. None of them are better than the U.S. Army, but some — like Russia’s army — have invested heavily in modernization and other areas to close the gap with the United States.
It can be frightening to think of the possibilities if a war with Russia did emerge, and Army leaders are right to express concern. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and other Army leaders have talked about the importance of predictable budgets, and Milley is doing a good job of trying to dispel the myths that some Beltway lawmakers have.
Among those myths is the belief that a modern Army can quickly materialize if large number of people are recruited and put through basic training. And “presto, you have a unit,” Milley said last week during a speech at the AUSA meeting.
The reality, though, is much more challenging, he said. Leaders take many years to develop the competencies and skills necessary to wage ground combat.
A platoon sergeant will take 10 to 15 years while a battalion commander will require 15 to 17 years, he said. Today’s weapons systems likewise take a long time to master, especially involving joint and combined fires, according to an Army News Service article.
I spoke with several local officials who went to the annual meeting last week, and all said Milley did an incredible job of making the case for Army readiness, and stating what needs to happen to make sure readiness doesn’t falter.
And it starts at the top with Congress passing a defense budget that is clear and well-funded. The Army can deal with the money it is given, even if it is not the exact amount the Army wants. However, when Congress kicks the can down the road with continuing resolutions or the like, things get murky for Army planners. That all trickles down to the soldiers and can affect readiness.
It’s time for Congress to get on board and start passing defense budgets that are real defense budgets and not Band-Aids.