Featured Member Activity
Sep 18 2013
By: Sen. Roger Wicker
For months, the Department of Defense (DOD) has been forced to cope with the harmful, meat-ax budget cuts known as sequestration, which took effect in early March. The adverse impact has hardly gone unnoticed: Furloughs, grounded combat squadrons, and canceled ship deployments are just a few of the troubling changes now characterizing America’s defense landscape.
This year’s National Aerospace Week is an important reminder of the vital role that the aerospace industry plays in providing our troops with the most advanced technology and equipment. Many leading global aerospace companies have operations in my home state of Mississippi, where they are developing the next generation of aircraft vehicles and components. Under sequestration, the ability of these companies to innovate and grow is placed in limbo.
Two years ago, when sequestration became law, top military officials made it clear that the disproportionate toll on defense would be disastrous to military readiness and national security. Tough decisions were needed from President Obama and lawmakers of both political parties. Otherwise, the ugly fallback plan devised by the White House would become a harsh reality.
Like many of my colleagues, I am disappointed by the lack of political consensus and leadership from President Obama in forging a long-term approach to fixing America’s debt problem. Across-the-board defense cuts are not a viable strategy for a secure and stable future. Instead, sequestration is – to borrow former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s description – a “self-inflicted wound.” Unless a bipartisan agreement emerges in the coming days, this wound will only grow deeper and more painful. On October 1, when the new fiscal year begins, DOD will be required to slash an additional $52 billion in spending. These reductions follow the $37 billion that was cut this year and amount to only part of sequestration’s $492 billion in cuts over the next 10 years.
The stakes are too high to accept that a budget solution is out of reach and that sequestration is the only way to rein in wasteful government spending. Not only does the future of U.S. leadership depend on a robust and ready military, but our brave men and women in uniform deserve the best resources available when executing important missions around the world.
The ongoing crisis in Syria is just one example of how the international community looks to America for leadership in times of great challenge. A weakened defense industrial base would no doubt limit the ability of U.S. forces to respond swiftly and effectively to urgent priorities, which are becoming more complex as our adversaries bolster their technological tools. Delays in modernization also make it more difficult for the United States to maintain its technological edge while anticipating and preparing for future threats.
America has a long and proud legacy of aerospace excellence, extending from the Wright brothers’ first flight in Kitty Hawk to the Apollo 11 moon landing to current advancements in unmanned aviation. Today, the aerospace industry is a multibillion-dollar contributor to the U.S. manufacturing sector and responsible for millions of well-paying, skilled U.S. jobs.
Budget constraints affecting DOD’s acquisition and procurement decisions will put these jobs at risk and could threaten DOD’s ability to utilize competition and provide the best value to the taxpayer. This is especially true for U.S. military helicopters, which are now manufactured by only five corporations.
If we want to design, build, and support a modernized helicopter fleet, we must recognize the need for predictability and sustained investment in the defense budget. We must also seek the most cost-effective and successful procurement programs when making budget decisions. The UH-72A Lakota helicopter, for example, fulfills a wide range of roles, including border security, search and rescue, pilot training, and cargo transport. Built by American Eurocopter in Mississippi, the Lakota demonstrates an economical use of defense dollars with big returns.
We must also seek to nurture innovative companies that are producing low-cost, innovative solutions to meet the needs of the warfighter amid the current budget crisis. In Mississippi, Aurora Flight Sciences manufactures the Orion unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) – a groundbreaking and cost-effective UAV capable of staying aloft for up to five days and providing vital information to military commanders, who must maintain battlefield awareness despite dwindling manned aircraft inventories.
The current budget debate in Congress is a pivotal moment for ensuring that the U.S. military remains the strongest fighting force in the world. I am hopeful that we can protect top strategic initiatives and national security interests by replacing sequestration with smarter budget savings. We must face our budget challenges with the same fortitude and vision that has marked our country’s preeminence throughout history. America does not default to failure. The future of U.S. leadership depends on our answer to today’s challenges.