Inhofe to Chair SASC Readiness Subpanel


WASHINGTON — US Sen. James Inhofe is poised to take over the Senate sub-panel charged with military weapons modernization and development — the Armed Services Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee — he told Defense News last week. 

The selection of Inhofe, R-Okla., adds an experienced and hawkish player to the side of lawmakers arguing the US military has a readiness crisis that needs bigger defense budgets to fix. Inhofe, 82, has spent 22 years on the committee and served as its ranking member from 2013 to 2015. His Senate term expires in 2020.

“It’s the big committee, and at a time when we have depleted our military, now is the time to become really aggressive and re-prioritize America’s needs,” Inhofe said of the Readiness subcommittee. “We’re going to have to go ahead and do it because we have really starved modernization too much.”

Inhofe would assume the chairmanship as top military generals have warned lawmakers their combat readiness is ebbing and expressed concern they would be unable to fight and win another war in the midst of budget cuts, two wars and heightened global threats.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to name the chairs of its subcommittees in the coming days. None have been officially announced, but Inhofe’s seniority assures him the seat of his choice, according to aides. He would replace New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte, who lost reelection for her Senate seat.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., would not comment on specific names last week but said the selections would be based on seniority and that he expected them to be complete in the next few days. 

Subcommittee chair selections generally follow the seniority rule, but not always, and it is up to McCain as chair. Notably, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., chairs the Air-land subcommittee, a position his seniority alone would not have earned him as freshman senator in the last Congress.

Inhofe has not been averse to saber rattling — calling for the deployment of fighter jets and warships to Europe in response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea — or blasting a flailing program, of which he has seen many.

At a Dec. 1 hearing, while grilling Navy officials over the Littoral Combat Ship’s delays and cost overruns, Inhofe lamented a long history of troubled programs he’s seen, including the B-1 and B-2 bombers, the Army’s aborted Future Combat Systems and today’s F-35 Lightning II and USS Zumwalt. 

“We’re always talking about cost overruns, we’re talking about increased costs and delays,” Inhofe said. “It’s not just the Navy. It’s a problem, it’s all over.”

Inhofe rang the alarm on readiness during the confirmation hearing for President-elect Trump’s nominee for defense secretary, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis.

He cited recent testimony from uniformed leaders to say readiness is at historical lows in the “smallest and oldest” Air Force, that only a third of Army brigades are ready to fight, that the Navy fleet is too small and that Marine aviator flight times are at historic lows.

Defense lobbyist Michael Herson, of American Defense International, said Inhofe’s selection would place an experienced hand in charge of the subcommittee and that Inhofe is sensitive to the military’s readiness crisis. 

McCain and House Armed Services Chair Mac Thornberry,  R-Texas, have argued the military is underfunded, undersized, and unready to meet current and future threats. But last August, retired Army Gen. David Petraeus and Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the nonprofit Brookings Institution think tank, wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the crisis is a myth.

“While Congress’s sequestration-mandated cuts to military spending have hurt preparedness, America’s fighting forces remain ready for battle,” they wrote. “They have extensive combat experience across multiple theaters since 9/11, a tremendous high-tech defense industry supplying advanced weaponry, and support from an extraordinary intelligence community.”

The House Armed Services Committee announced its new chairman assignments last week.

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., takes over the Seapower subcommittee chair vacated by Virginia Republican Rep. Randy Forbes, who lost reelection. Wittman hands the Readiness gavel to Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., who hands the Emerging Threats and Capabilities gavel to Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y.

Rep. Mike Coffman, Colo., takes over Military Personnel from Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., who left the House for an unsuccessful Senate bid.

Staying in place are Tactical Air & Land Forces chair Mike Turner, R-Ohio; Strategic Forces chair Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and Oversight & Investigations chair Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo.

Email:    jgould@defensenews.com     

Twitter:    @reporterjoe     

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