When it comes to our military, it is easy to assume that the United States has the best of everything. For most of us, it’s because that’s how it always was. Having the greatest military coupled with modern, advanced weaponry allowed us to win two world wars as well as successfully use deterrence to win the Cold War.
Our military edge was the product of hard work, not birthright. We earned it. But over the last 10 years our military supremacy has degraded. Gen. (Joseph) Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has warned that our qualitative and quantitative advantage has eroded.
We’re falling behind in many areas to China and Russia – not just advanced new weaponry, like hypersonic weapons, directed energy and AI – but also in terms of conventional capabilities. That includes aviation and artillery, two key capabilities that are resident in Oklahoma’s military installations.
Why? Simply put, we are not investing enough to keep up. At the end of the Cold War, we had about the same number of fighter aircraft as Russia and China. Our aircraft were also the newest and most capable in the world.
In the last 25 years, however, we have lost that superiority. Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson has said, “Our Air Force is too small to do what the nation asks,” and it is easy to see why. In 1990, we bought over 500 aircraft per year, but recently that number has been reduced to around 50 per year. We must do better because at this rate, it will take us over 40 years to modernize a fleet that is already too old and too small — just look at the B-52 bomber. We’ve been flying this aircraft for 66 years.
We’re woefully behind in artillery, too. At the end of the Cold War, the Russians and Chinese had vastly superior numbers of artillery, but we were in a position to counter their volume because our equipment was so much better. We are now in a situation where both of these countries not only have more artillery than we do, but theirs is better than ours — especially in terms of long-range fires and tactical missiles. Gen. Mark Milley, chief of staff of the Army, said it plainly: “In terms of artillery, the Army is out-gunned and outranged by our adversaries.”
The facts are clear – we’re falling behind Russia and China – and that gap will only grow wider and faster without a sustained and continued commitment to sufficient funding. The bipartisan National Defense Commission calls for a 3 percent to 5 percent increase per year in defense spending to address the shortfalls. I agree.
Oklahoma also plays a big role in reversing our shortfalls in artillery and aviation. Fort Sill in Lawton is home to the Army’s cross functional teams centered on long-range precision fires and air defense. They are responsible for modernizing our artillery and restoring our comparative combat advantage relative to China and Russia, while McAlester Army Ammunition Plant ensures we have the ammunition we need to do it. Our Air Force bases at Vance, Tinker and Altus each play a significant role in training pilots for a more lethal force and sustaining the next generation of aircraft.
Aviation and artillery are not the only areas where we are behind, but they clearly illustrate the critical nature of the crisis. I believe we are in the most threatened position of my lifetime, and we must prioritize our defense capabilities to deter the threats we face from China and Russia. The only way we can do that is by investing in the maintenance and modernization efforts that have been neglected for too long.
Inhofe, R-Okla., is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. This column is based on a speech Inhofe gave on the Senate floor earlier this month.