The U.S. military is the most lethal and capable armed force in the world because previous administrations and Congresses made the investments needed, Army Gen. Mark A. Milley told the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee today.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the panel that the military's purpose is simple: "to defend the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."
In this era, this means to deter great power war. "To do this, our No. 1 priority is readiness now and readiness in the future — and there is no other No. 1 priority," the general said.
The fiscal 2024 defense budget request accomplishes this, he said.
The international rules-based system that has kept great power peace since the end of World War II is under increasing stress, Milley said. "Both China and Russia have the means to threaten our interests and our way of life," he said. "But war with China or Russia is neither imminent nor inevitable."
China is the United States' long-term geostrategic security challenge. "[China] has publicly stated that it intends to be the regional hegemon in Asia within the next 10 years and to exceed the United States' overall military capability by midcentury," the general said. "Chinese actions are moving it on a path toward potential confrontation with its neighbors or the United States. But, again, war with China is neither inevitable nor imminent."
Milley said Russia is an acute threat and remains very dangerous, especially under current conditions. U.S. officials have said Russia's war on neighboring Ukraine threatens European stability.
"We are supporting Ukraine to protect its sovereignty and supporting NATO with a force presence in every single nation on NATO's eastern front," he said.
Iran continues to disturb the peace in the Middle East and beyond by its support of terrorists and proxy forces. "[Iranian leaders] continue to improve their capability to produce a nuclear weapon," Milley said. The general said Iran could produce enough materiel to produce an atomic weapon quickly, and then it would only be a few months before a deliverable weapon was ready. "The United States policy remains the same, and the United States remains committed that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon," he said.
North Korea also continues testing missiles and nuclear weapons. "We stand with the Republic of Korea [South Korea] shoulder-to-shoulder to deter North Korean aggression as we have for 70 years," he said.
Add to those threats that of terror groups, and the U.S. military has its hands full. "We are currently standing watch on freedom's frontier," the chairman said. Forces must defend land, air, sea, space and cyber domains, and U.S. service members work with allies and partners to ensure their safety.
Milley told the senators that investments in maintenance are paying off with operational readiness rates higher now than they've been in years. "Currently, 60 percent of our active force is at the highest states of readiness and could deploy to combat in less than 30 days," he said.
An example of that is when President Joe Biden ordered the United States military to react to the unprovoked aggression by Russia. "We deployed one corps, two divisions, three brigade combat teams out of the Army [to Europe]," Milley said. "We doubled the amount of fighter squadrons, and we doubled the number of ships and submarines in the European theater of operations — and we did that in 35 days. That doesn't happen by accident."
He also cited the operation to evacuate the U.S. diplomats in Khartoum, Sudan. That joint operation involved the Navy, Army, Air Force and Marine Corps, as well as National Guard in Djibouti. put naval special operations forces on the ground delivered by Army special operations aircraft, with U.S. Air Force support above with fixed-wing fighter bombers, Army Rangers and a quick-reaction force the Marine Corps in reserve and five U.S. naval vessels off the coast and National Guard in Djibouti ready to go," he said. "All of that was planned, coordinated, synchronized and executed from a cold start. Our force can rapidly project flexible, responsive power anywhere around the globe, and no adversary should ever doubt that … the United States military is ready."
The U.S. military is at an inflection point, the general said. "We must balance operations readiness and modernization," he said. "We must not allow ourselves to create the false trap that we can either modernize or focus only on today — we must do both."