Columns

Deputy SecDef: DoD 'Will Lack Time to Prepare' for Crisis Due to Budget Constraints

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan speaks with CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr during the Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Dec. 2, 2017. (DoD photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said Saturday at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi  Valley, Calif., that “Congress will undoubtedly fund us for conflict” in a moment of crisis, “but we will lack the time to prepare” due to lack of a stable budget.

The former Boeing senior vice president said in his four-and-a-half-month tenure at the Pentagon “a couple of the department’s behaviors strike me as abnormal.”

“First, operating without a budget is not normal. Doing so every year for nine years is really not normal,” he said. “Next, airplanes are meant to fly. A service with a significant number of its airplanes grounded and awaiting maintenance is not normal.”

Shanahan noted that “artificial constraints still hold our national defense hostage, from budget stresses, like continuing resolutions and Budget Control Act caps to disagreements in Congress that affect timely decision-making.”

“Right now, we have time – one of our most precious resources – but we lack the stable budget needed to prepare for future fights,” he added. “…We cannot rely on a crisis to be the catalyst for solutions.”

The deputy secretary stressed that “rapidly changing global security environment and budgetary instability have forced our Department into a risk management posture – the consequences of which are hard to calculate.”

“For any fellow engineers in the room, let me draw a physics analogy – according to Hooke’s Law, elastic materials bounce back to their original shape after stresses are removed from their environment. But if stress exceeds a certain limit, the materials will fail to regain their original shape. They become permanently deformed,” he explained. “The Department of Defense has its limits to elasticity. Excessive pressure in the form of budgetary instability has the potential to permanently distort our Department’s character and lessen our lethality.”

Shanahan said both size and capability increase lethality.

“How you use your force structure, how you use the capability.  It can be a multiplier.  There’s all sorts of ways to create different types of effect.  There’s not a magic answer as to what the mix is.  You can generate more capability from what we already have today, and things that we can do with innovation and technology, can really hold those forces to do even more,” he said.

“…I’m bullish on the fact that we can walk and chew gum.  I’m bullish on the fact that there’s a lot of opportunity on the reform side that’d pay for the modernization efforts that we’re going to undertake.”