How Trump's National Security Memorandum Could Boost Military Readiness

PHOTO: Military units march during the 58th presidential inauguration parade for President Donald Trump in Washington, Jan. 20, 2017.PlayPablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo
WATCH President Trump Signs Executive Orders at Pentagon

President Trump today signed a national security memorandum that he said will "begin a great rebuilding of the Armed Services of the United States, developing a plan for new planes, new ships, new resources, and new tools for our men and women in uniform."

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The memorandum also orders reviews that would modernize America's nuclear weapons systems and strengthen its missile defense capabilities.

Trump often characterized the U.S. military during his presidential campaign as having been "depleted" during the Obama administration. But the lower funding levels the U.S. military experienced in recent years were forced by the Budget Control Act of 2011 that mandated government spending cuts known as sequestration.

U.S. military officials have said that while their services are still able to carry out their missions, the reduced funding has affected some of their readiness and required training.

"This is the rebuilding of the United States armed forces," Trump told an audience of about 100 of the Defense Department's senior military and civilian leaders gathered to witness the ceremonial swearing-in of Defense Secretary James Mattis.

"I promise that our administration will always have your back," Trump said after signing the memorandum. "We will always be with you."

Here’s a look at the two-page memorandum that Trump says will strengthen the U.S. military.

What is in the memo?

Addressed to the Defense secretary and director of the Office of Management and Budget, the memorandum states that "it shall be the policy of the United States to rebuild the U.S. Armed Forces."

It gives Defense Secretary James Mattis, a retired Marine general, 30 days to conduct a review to assess "readiness conditions, including training, equipment maintenance, munitions, modernization, and infrastructure." The review will guide what actions can be carried out in the current fiscal year "that are necessary to improve readiness conditions," as well as in the FY 2017 budget proposal that is still working its way through Congress a year after it was submitted.

Mattis will also have 60 days to submit a plan of action that by FY 2019 "shall address areas for improvement, including insufficient maintenance, delays in acquiring parts, access to training ranges, combatant command operational demands, funding needed for consumables (e.g., fuel, ammunition), manpower shortfalls, depot maintenance capacity, and time needed to plan, coordinate, and execute readiness and training activities."

The Defense Department will be required to submit a National Defense Strategy "to give the President and the Secretary maximum strategic flexibility and to determine the force structure necessary to meet requirements."

The memorandum also requires a review of the nuclear triad "to ensure that the United States nuclear deterrent is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies."

It also calls for a new review of Ballistic Missile Defense "to identify ways of strengthening missile-defense capabilities, rebalancing homeland and theater defense priorities, and highlighting priority funding areas."

PHOTO: President Donald Trump is greeted by Defense Secretary James Mattis ahead of Mattis ceremonial swearing-in, Jan. 27, 2016, at the Pentagon in Washington. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
President Donald Trump is greeted by Defense Secretary James Mattis ahead of Mattis' ceremonial swearing-in, Jan. 27, 2016, at the Pentagon in Washington.

What could the military get?

The military services will likely make the case for increased budgets to make up for the personnel reductions and lower levels of training that have resulted from sequestration.

In recent years the Army has downsized to about 470,000 soldiers, down from the force of 570,000 soldiers at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army could find a receptive ear from the Trump administration if it wants to add more soldiers in uniform because Trump’s presidential campaign included his advocating for growing the Army back to 540,000.

Trump also wanted to grow the Marine Corps to 36 combat battalions. Such an increase would require a boost from the current force of 183,000 Marines. But a more pressing need for the Marine Corps is maintaining and refurbishing its aging and overused fleet of planes and helicopters. The strain on its aircraft has been labeled a crisis because of the significant drops in the readiness levels this year that have at times left half its aircraft unavailable to fly.

He also recommended during the campaign an increase in the number of fighter aircraft available to the Air Force to 1,200.

While more aircraft might be welcome, the Air Force also wants more personnel to ease the strain of the air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In December, Gen. David Goldfein, the chief of staff of the Air Force, suggested that if sequestration cuts were done away with, the Air Force should grow by 33,000 airmen to 350,000 over the next seven years.

The Navy recently issued an assessment that recommended growing to a fleet of 355 ships with more aircraft carriers, submarines and surface warships. That estimate is similar to the Trump campaign proposal to boost the number of ships to 350. Both proposals would be a dramatic increase from the current fleet of 274 ships that is slated to grow to 308 by 2021.

While increased funding could lead to more ships, top Navy leaders acknowledge telling the Trump transition team at the Pentagon that their focus is on maintaining the ships they have.

That's because the pace of Navy ship deployments has remained constant as the number of ships has decreased over the past decade. The upshot is less time for crucial long-term maintenance work needed to keep those ships functional for decades to come.

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