Brad Wenstrup:
Keeping America safe

Providing for our national defense is not optional — it’s a constitutional command. In recent years, the U.S. military has faced years of devastating cuts, leaving us with the smallest Army since before World War II, a Navy fleet among the smallest since World War I, and an Air Force whose top general has said it may not be able to control the skies in a future conflict. While our military grows weaker, threats around the world have grown only stronger.

On July 14, the House passed the annual defense policy bill (FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act, H.R. 2810). This is big news for our national defense: this bill takes a major step towards reversing those trendlines, and represents a down-payment on the military needed to face threats to our national security both today and tomorrow.

Here are the top 10 things you need to know:

1. Increases end strength. Builds up the Army, Navy, and Air Force back up to the levels that they have requested.

2. Focuses on maintenance and repair. Too many planes, ships, and vehicles are grounded or can’t be used due to a shortage of parts and maintenance. In fact, nearly 2/3rds of Navy strike fighters can’t fly for those reasons. As the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army recently testified: “our Army requires modernized equipment to win decisively — but today we are outranged, outgunned, and outdated.” We need to fix that.

3. Strengthens cyber operations. Fully supports the DOD’s defensive and offensive cyberspace capabilities and strategies – which are critical for the 21st century threats we face.

4. Makes major reforms to how the Pentagon does business. Requires the Pentagon to rethink its buying practices, including empowering the purchase of commercial products through online sites like Amazon, which are often cheaper and would save taxpayer dollars.

5. Provides a pay raise for troops. It’s the least we can do for those who fight for us on the frontlines.

6. Supports and equips our allies in the fight against ISIS. Provides U.S. support to our global partners engaged in combatting ISIS and directs the DOD to provide a comprehensive, regional strategy for Syria that describes U.S. long-term objectives in the wake of the combat against ISIS.

7. Keeps terrorist detainees at GTMO. Continues the restrictions against transferring GTMO detainees to the U.S. homeland. Watch my speech on the House floor about this, here.

8. Boosts missile defense. While total missile defense funding is still well below Bush administration levels, this bill gets us back on track towards strengthening our missile defense systems, which are particularly critical in light of North Korea’s continued aggression.

9. Invests in tomorrow’s security. Makes the long-term investments in modernization, research and development necessary for our future Armed Forces to deter threats and preserve peace.

10. Invests in space. Requires the creation of a separate Space Corps within the Air Force to give strategic attention to space as a critical aspect of U.S. national security.

On June 28th, Wenstrup answered questions from constituents via social media about the bill.

“Isn’t it true that we already spend more than any other country for defense?” – Pat, via Facebook

Statistically, yes. But that only tells part of the story. The truth is that our investment in national security compared with the rest of the world has dropped dramatically over the last four years. In fact, since 2010, our defense budget has been cut by over 20% — but the world is not 20% safer. The U.S. military must be prepared to deter and defeat growing threats from ISIS, North Korea, Iran, China, and Russia.

Additionally, the impact of a strong national defense stretches beyond just security. With 80% of global trade traveling by sea, the strength of America’s economy is directly linked with our Navy and Air Force’s ability to keep the world’s sea lanes open and secure. Other benefits – like promoting a peaceful and prosperous international order – are harder to quantify but equally critical.

Bottom-line: If we want to reevaluate U.S. global priorities and ensure we’re meeting them as strategically as possible, then let’s do that. But underfunding our military in the meantime is not the answer. As Carl Vinson said, “The most expensive thing in the world is a cheap Army and Navy.”

“Manufacturing a ‘military crisis’ is disgusting and unconscionable.” – Kelly, via Facebook

I would agree if that were true. Unfortunately, the facts today tell a different story:

Nearly 2/3rds of the U.S. Navy strike fighters can’t fly, most due to increased operations and a shortage of funding, maintenance, and parts.

In 2015, Marine Corps aviation deaths hit a five-year high as aircraft failed or pilots made mistakes due to inadequate training hours.

In the Air Force, current combat readiness is below 50%, with the average age of aircraft at 27 years – the oldest in the Air Force’s 70 year history. That means the majority of our planes would qualify as antique vehicles in Ohio.

The Vice Chief of Staff of the Army recently testified that “our Army requires modernized equipment to win decisively — but today we are outranged, outgunned, and outdated.”

“Rebuild our military for what? Did Congress declare war on someone when I wasn’t looking?” – Jeff via Facebook.

Investing in our military is not just about declaring war – it’s about deterring conflict and ensuring peace. As Ronald Reagan said during his 1986 State of the Union address: “spending for defense is investing in things that are priceless — peace and freedom.”

In order to do this effectively, we need to rebuild our military because, after years of defense cuts, we’ve hollowed out our force. To get aircraft, ships, and units ready to deploy to the Middle East or elsewhere, the military regularly has to take parts off other planes, ships, and equipment. Reports broke last year that U.S. Marines were even scrounging for fighter jet parts at a museum in one instance.

Bottom-line: We owe it to the troops we deploy and to their families to make sure they have the resources, training, and equipment necessary to accomplish their missions and bring them home as safely as possible.

“Does defense spending increase safety?” – Bobby, via Twitter

The short answer is yes – defense spending is an investment in our national security, both in the short-term and in the long-term. Here’s what I mean: Today, our men and women in uniform are managing to carry out their current missions. However, insufficient funding means trade-offs have to be made and we end up robbing them of critical investments in the capabilities and technology they will need to keep us safe tomorrow. As our adversaries continue to make progress in space, cyber, and technology, we risk losing the competitive edge we have spent decades building. American troops should never be sent into a fair fight — the enemy must always be at a disadvantage.

“Our military budget level isn’t the problem; it’s how we spend it.” – Andrew, via Facebook

I definitely agree there is a waste problem at the Pentagon; that’s why I have strongly supported auditing the Department of Defense and continue to do so. I believe cutting waste at the DOD is a national security priority, because fighting waste and abuse helps ensure our critical defense dollars are going where they are needed most. Additionally, the past two NDAAs Congress passed have enacted serious reform to military retirement plans, military healthcare, and acquisition reform to ensure we are purchasing more efficiently.

“There will no longer be a United States of America if we continue to compromise our military. A weak country is a vulnerable one. Peace through strength.” – Vivien, via Facebook

I agree — we cannot continue to task our Armed Forces with deterring threats to our national security and American interests around the globe without equipping them with the capabilities they need to accomplish their missions. At the end of the day, preparedness and deterrence cost less and save lives. We have an obligation to the men and women we send to the frontlines to fully resource our military without delay.