Robert Work made his first appearance Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee in his new role as deputy secretary of defense.
He addressed questions about the recently released fiscal year 2015 overseas contingency operations (OCO) request and ongoing concerns over the readiness of U.S. forces.
The request of $58.6 billion is about one-third or $26.7 billion less than the $85.3 billion OCO request Congress approved for FY2014. It’s also about $100 billion less than the $159 billion OCO request Congress Ok’d four years ago.
Work told the lawmakers that the smaller request for FY2015 reflected the ongoing decline in war-related spending as the war in Afghanistan winds down.
“Even as the war ends, the Department will continue to seek OCO funding to cover the costs of returning, repairing, and replacing equipment until that process is complete, and costs associated with our broader military presence in the Middle East from which we support a number of critical missions in the region, as well as unforeseen contingencies,” Work said in his written testimony.
Of the requested funds, $53.4 billion would go toward Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), supporting the draw down of forces in Afghanistan. The money would also provide ongoing support to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and coalition partners.
Recovery, reset and readiness of forces
OCO also includes $9.2 billion for the ongoing military recovery and reset.
“We expect future OCO requests to have additional money,” Work said. “As we’ve been saying all along, we believe that the reset of our equipment will take a couple, two or three years after we cease our combat operations in Afghanistan. We are in the process of bringing an enormous amount of gear. Some of it has to be refurbished, upgraded. We have to determine whether we need to get rid of it or replace it.”
Committee members expressed concern over whether the smaller OCO would negatively impact the readiness of troops.
“We all recognize that we’re going to go through a one or two year trough in readiness as we reset the force and as we come out of Afghanistan,” Work said. “So, it is tight. It is extremely tight. And if we go to the [Budget Control Act] levels, it will be even tighter.”
Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told the committee that failing to conduct a full reset of equipment and training could have a huge impact on DoD’s overall readiness.
“We have a very good understanding of what various contingencies around the world could require, whether it’s a Korea contingency, Iran contingency, you name it,” he said. “All that calculus went into the formulation of the budget request for next year, and, indeed, into the strategy that accompanies the [Quadrennial Defense Review]. Can you defeat one adversary while denying the objectives of another?”
Work and Winnefeld agreed that DoD’s deployablity would continue to be fragile for the next several years as it resets its force and recovers its readiness.
Winnefeld described a worst case scenario, in which the OCO disappears next year, DoD experiences another round of sequestration, fails to get the compensation savings it’s seeking and is forced to retain systems it believes it no longer needs.
“If all of that comes together, then you will have a broken force at the end of the day,” he said. “It won’t just be a hollow force, it will be a broken force. And we will not be able to execute even close to what the strategy asks us to do.”
OCO funds for counterterrorism, European Reassurance Initiative
In other areas of the OCO reqest, two new presidential initiatives would also receive funding. The first is $5 billion going to the counterterrorism partnerships fund (CTPF), $4 billion of which is going to DoD.
“The overall goal of the CTPF is to increase the ability of partner countries to conduct counterterrorism operations, prevent the proliferation of terrorist threats from neighboring states, and participate in multinational counterterrorism operations, including countering ISIL and other terrorist groups in the region,” Works said, in his written testimony. “We plan to allocate about $2.5 billion for counterterrorism support and $1 billion for the Syria regional stabilization initiative, helping Syria’s neighbors – including Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. As part of the Syria regional stabilization initiative, we are seeking $500 million to train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the moderate Syrian armed opposition. An additional $500 million would be allocated for crisis response.”
The White House is putting $1 billion into the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI), to help pay for an increase in military deployments in Europe.
“We believe that a temporary increase in rotational U.S. air, land, and sea presence in Europe, especially in central and eastern Europe, along with more extensive bilateral and multilateral exercises and training, are necessary and appropriate demonstrations of support to our NATO allies and partners who are deeply concerned by Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea and other provocative actions in Ukraine,” Work said.