Now that we’ve reached the holiday shopping season, it’s time to think about what to give the planet’s most powerful military.
Yes, Congress has lavished gifts on them in recent years, with budgets topping $680 billion. But there’s still a lot left on the military’s Christmas list.
Here’s the top item on the list for all the services: partisan harmony in Congress.
The military is again scraping by paycheck to paycheck after Congress failed to pass a 2020 budget and also gridlocked on a Pentagon policy bill.
Instead, lawmakers have passed temporary spending plans that give the Pentagon a few weeks of cash instead of an actual budget.
That means the military can’t start new programs, and items like pay raises for troops are on hold.
In reality, lawmakers will likely string the military along for months more. With impeachment picking up steam in the Democrat-run House and the Senate’s Republicans focused on defending the White House, there’s little room for getting a Pentagon budget deal done.
But if they did get one done, the services have Christmas lists, too.
The Army needs a new tank.
The old one, the M1A2 Abrams, remains a top tank on the planet’s battlefields, but it is facing a reality it has in common with paunchy, middle-aged, mustachioed newspaper reporters. The Abrams tank isn’t getting any younger, but at 72 tons and climbing with each upgrade, it is getting fatter. The Abrams is so heavy that it can only be transported one tank at a time by aircraft. So getting to war means a long sea voyage if the Army needs tanks.
There are some designs in the works for lighter, more nimble tanks that use technology to replace tons of armor, allowing the Army to roll to the battlefield more quickly and more safely. That kind of new tank is on top of many Army Christmas lists.
The Marines, meanwhile, need a better way to keep their boots dry. Freed largely from combat overseas, the Marine Corps is able to focus on countering China’s increasing aggressive posture in the Pacific.
But the systems the Marines use to make amphibious landings have seen few updates since the Cold War. The Ship-to-Shore Connector, a giant hovercraft designed to take Marines from ships to the beach, is on order for the Corps. But Marines need that system now.
The Navy, which is in the middle of a shipbuilding boom, still has needs. Big ones, the size of the new USS Ford, a 1,106-foot aircraft carrier. The Ford is a problem and has been for some time.
Named for the former president, the Ford was two years late in being delivered to the Navy and is just now undergoing serious sea trials.
The Ford isn’t expected to be ready for combat deployments until 2022. For a ship that cost more than $13 billion, the Ford’s ongoing teething problems are troubling.
The issues are more troubling when you look at the Navy’s aging carrier fleet. The USS Nimitz turns 45 next year, and others in the fleet are entering their 40s. Those carriers will soon be spending as much time in dry dock as they do at sea. That means the Navy will soon need more Ford Class carriers and can’t afford years of waiting to get them to sea.
The Air Force, which finally is getting new tankers to replace KC-135s ordered by the Eisenhower administration, now needs a way to replace the rest of the aging cousins of the Boeing 707 in its fleet.
The service needs new early warning and battlefield surveillance planes to replace machines that are past their prime. It’s not a sexy item to sell to Congress — these unarmed planes fly in big circles on long missions. But they are crucial to how America fights overseas, and with rivals including China and Russia developing stealthy planes and figuring out new ways to mask ground movements, new gear is needed now.
Lastly, the baby of the family, Space Force, needs a birthday.
Congress amid its budget wrangling has blocked a policy bill to create the new service branch for space. It’s tied up in the larger Defense Authorization Act, which is caught between the House and Senate.
Lawmakers in both parties agree that America needs a space service to counter growing threats in orbit. But with the ongoing impeachment rancor, and with partisan issues likely to still rage in 2020, the Space Force seems stuck.
Lawmakers need to come up with a separate bill to start the service, untying it from other arguments and, maybe, getting it through the congressional maze.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240 Twitter: @xroederx