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Thune: Annual Defense Bill Must Address Shortfalls in Military Readiness

“I will do everything I can to help ensure that this year’s NDAA advances our nation’s readiness, so that we can be prepared to deter any threat – or meet it if called upon.”

June 21, 2023

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today spoke on the Senate floor about the importance of passing a strong National Defense Authorization Act in order to bolster national security, enhance shortfalls in military readiness, prioritize critical projects for the incoming B-21 mission at Ellsworth Air Force Base, and compete with the Chinese Communist Party.  

Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):

Mr. President, this week the Senate Armed Services Committee is marking up the fiscal year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act.


“The NDAA is one of the most important pieces of legislation we consider every year.


“It’s the bill that authorizes funding for our men and women in uniform and our defense needs, and lays out our defense priorities.


“And hopefully it’s one of the things that forces us to sit down and seriously consider the state of our national defense and what we need, both now and in the future, to ensure that America’s military is prepared to deter – and, if necessary, confront – any threat.


“Mr. President, I like to say that if we don’t get national defense right, the rest is just conversation.


“And it’s true.


“The security of our nation is the precondition for everything else – for the continued enjoyment of our freedoms, for a flourishing society, for a healthy economy, for government’s ability to do anything. 


“My Democrat colleagues these days often seem to think we can let defense spending take a back seat to Democrats’ latest big-government initiative.


“But that betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of reality.


“We live in a fallen world, Mr. President, and as long as we live in a fallen world, there will be evil men bent on aggression.


“And so our national defense is not something we can ever afford to minimize or take for granted.


“We have to be prepared at all times to deter and meet any threat.

“Mr. President, the United States has a reputation for having one of the strongest militaries in the world.


“And while that reputation is deserved, Mr. President, the fact of the matter is that our military readiness is not where it needs to be.

“Thanks to budgetary impasses and increased operational demands, by 2018 our readiness had eroded to the point that the bipartisan National Defense Strategy Commission released a report warning that we might struggle to win a war against a major power like Russia or China.


“And while we have made progress since then, we are still a long way from where we need to be.


“Recent U.S. war games positing a U.S.-China conflict following an attack on Taiwan have had grim results, showing enormous military and economic costs on both sides.


“One news story on these war games noted, and I quote, ‘And while the ultimate outcome in these exercises is not always clear — the U.S. does better in some than others — the cost is.  In every exercise the U.S. uses up all its long-range air-to-surface missiles in a few days, with a substantial portion of its planes destroyed on the ground.’


“Let me just repeat that last line.


“‘In every exercise the U.S. uses up all its long-range air-to-surface missiles in a few days, with a substantial portion of its planes destroyed on the ground.’

“That’s not a promising scenario, Mr. President.


“And it points to serious readiness shortages, particularly deficiencies in our inventory of munitions.


“And I don’t need to tell anyone that the side that runs out of munitions first is likely to be the side that loses in any conflict.


“Which is why we need sustained investments in rebuilding our supply chain, an effort that is reinforced by multi-year purchases. 


“Mr. President, China is flexing its power with increasingly aggressive actions in the Indo-Pacific.


“And it is investing heavily in its military.


“China’s defense budget has doubled over the last decade, and this year it will increase by more than 7 percent for the second year in a row.


“And that doesn’t even count any additional defense funding that China hides.


“So it should come as no surprise that China is outpacing our military in modern capabilities like hypersonic missiles and has amassed a larger navy.


“Mr. President, I said that China is growing increasingly aggressive in the Indo-Pacific – but China is also growing increasingly aggressive toward the United States.


“Everyone remembers the Chinese spy balloon that flew over our country earlier this year.


“But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.


“Recent reports indicate that China is using Cuba as a base for intelligence-gathering against the U.S.    


“And now it has emerged that China is in discussions with Havana to establish a new joint military training facility in Cuba.


“And that’s not even to mention the aggressive behavior of the Chinese military toward U.S. assets in the Indo-Pacific.


“It is impossible to overstate the necessity of ensuring that we have the military and economic strength necessary to deter attacks from China – or, in the worst case, confront and defeat them.


“And, Mr. President, while China is obviously a major focus, we cannot forget the threat posed by Russia, as we continue to see in Ukraine.


“Which is why it is vital that the United States and the western world continue to support Ukraine in its fight, and that NATO members take seriously – or exceed – their commitment to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense.


“And outside of great power threats, there are rogue nations like Iran, which is deepening its ties with both Russia and China and is dangerously close to becoming a nuclear power.


“And so, Mr. President, the legislation the Senate Armed Services Committee is considering this week is vital.


“And I hope the markup will produce a strong bill that helps address the shortfalls in our readiness.


“I’ve put forward a number of proposals that I hope will be included in the final legislation, with full funding for development of the new B-21 bomber, which will be housed at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, at the very top of my priority list.


“I’m also working to ensure that in addition to funding for the B-21 and the necessary support facilities, the Ellsworth area gets the resources it needs to support the military personnel and their families who will be coming to the area with the arrival of the B-21s.


“Mr. President, Ronald Reagan once said, ‘We know only too well that war comes not when the forces of freedom are strong, but when they are weak.  It is then that tyrants are tempted.’


“Today, as ever, it is vital that we make sure the forces of freedom are strong.


“And I will do everything I can to help ensure that this year’s NDAA advances our nation’s readiness, so that we can be prepared to deter any threat – or meet it if called upon.


“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”