Report to Congress on Afghanistan and U.S. Policy

The following is the Dec. 1, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Afghanistan: Background and U.S. Policy in Brief. From the report The aftershocks of Afghanistan’s watershed year of 2021 continue to reverberate within Afghanistan, throughout its region, and in the United States. In 2021, U.S. and international forces departed after nearly two decades of operations […]

The following is the Dec. 1, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Afghanistan: Background and U.S. Policy in Brief.

From the report

The aftershocks of Afghanistan’s watershed year of 2021 continue to reverberate within Afghanistan, throughout its region, and in the United States. In 2021, U.S. and international forces departed after nearly two decades of operations in Afghanistan; the internationally backed Afghan government and its military forces collapsed; and the Taliban, a Sunni Islamist extremist group that formerly ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, retook power. Afghans and Americans alike, including Members of Congress and other U.S. policymakers, continue to grapple with the reality of the Taliban’s renewed rule.

The Taliban government is dominated by former officials from the Taliban’s prior rule or longtime loyalists, indicating that the Taliban have prioritized internal cohesion over outreach to other segments of Afghan society or similar gestures advocated by the United States and other countries. Some signs of dissension in the group’s ranks along various lines have emerged, though the Taliban have a history of effectively managing internal disputes. Some Afghans have sought to advocate for their rights and express opposition to the Taliban in nonviolent demonstrations, which the Taliban have monitored and sometimes violently dispersed. Other anti-Taliban Afghans have taken up arms against the Taliban, claiming guerilla-style attacks against Taliban forces and calling for international assistance, and the regional Islamic State affiliate has conducted attacks against both Taliban forces and Afghan civilians.

Some Members of Congress have focused on a number of impacts of the Taliban’s renewed rule on U.S. interests:

  • Counterterrorism. The Taliban takeover has had different impacts on the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, historic Taliban adversaries and partners, respectively. With no U.S. military forces based in Afghanistan or neighboring states, the United States is pursuing an “over-the-horizon” counterterrorism approach.
  • Women and Girls. Taliban actions have been detrimental for the status of women and girls in Afghanistan, a longtime U.S. policy concern, with girls prohibited from attending school at the secondary level and women’s roles drastically curtailed.
  • Relocating U.S. Partners. Some Members of Congress have closely followed ongoing U.S. efforts to relocate remaining U.S. citizens, as well as the tens of thousands of Afghans who worked for U.S. efforts and seek to leave the country.

Some Members have also expressed concern about dire humanitarian conditions in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan has faced intersecting and overwhelming humanitarian and economic crises, a result of challenges both preexisting (such as natural disasters and Afghanistan’s weak economic base) and new (such as the cut-off of international development assistance, U.S. sanctions on the Taliban, and the U.S. hold on Afghan central bank assets). In response, the Biden Administration has provided over $1 billion in humanitarian assistance, issued general licenses authorizing various humanitarian and commercial transactions, and established a Switzerland-based “Afghan Fund” to disburse some of Afghanistan’s central bank assets to support the Afghan economy.

Congressional oversight of U.S. Afghanistan policy has featured numerous hearings, past and ongoing investigations, and the creation of the Afghanistan War Commission. Congress has also imposed a variety of reporting requirements to monitor dynamics in Afghanistan and their implications for U.S. policy. Going forward, Congress may consider further reporting requirements, resources, or investigative efforts related to various U.S. interests as it evaluates the Biden Administration’s budget request and defense authorization measures. Future reports from the congressionally created Afghanistan War Commission and other bodies may offer lessons for legislators

Congressional action is likely to be influenced, and likely constrained, by a lack of reliable information about events in Afghanistan and the historical legacy of U.S. conflict with the Taliban. Perhaps more challengingly, the Biden Administration and many in Congress seek to ameliorate humanitarian and economic conditions in Afghanistan, but without taking any action that boosts the Taliban’s position or that may be perceived as doing so. Pursuing these policies in tandem may prove complicated given the Taliban’s evident aversion to make compromises in response to international pressure and its apparent willingness to accept considerable humanitarian and economic suffering as the price of that uncompromising stance.

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Tough Military Recruiting Environment is About Much More than Low Unemployment, Experts Say

When it comes to military recruiting, economist Beth Asch is an optimist. Asch has been studying military recruiting for almost 40 years, during which she has seen good recruiting years and bad ones. Each time a new challenge arises, it’s treated like a crisis, she said during a Heritage Foundation discussion Tuesday. In the 1990s, […]

Recruits with the 64th Annual Recruit Cardinal Division stand at attention during a pass-in-review graduation ceremony inside Midway Ceremonial Drill Hall at Recruit Training Command, Nov. 4, 2022. US Navy Photo

When it comes to military recruiting, economist Beth Asch is an optimist. Asch has been studying military recruiting for almost 40 years, during which she has seen good recruiting years and bad ones.

Each time a new challenge arises, it’s treated like a crisis, she said during a Heritage Foundation discussion Tuesday. In the 1990s, recruiting was affected by the dot com boom when more people were being hired by the growing tech industry, Asch said in a November interview with USNI News. In 2005, a stronger economy and the war in Iraq led to less interest in joining the services.

But history shows that recruiting challenges can be overcome, Asch said, suggesting that the current recruiting issues are no different.

“Invariably, it can take a while,” she said. “It can take a lot of resources, it will involve mistakes, and it can be quite costly. And that has to be reckoned with but I am optimistic that things will get back on track. I mean they have to.”

Top military leaders have suggested that the strong job market might be the cause for the current recruiting woes, suggesting it can be difficult to attract talent who also have opportunities to work for large box stores like Amazon.

But a lack of recruits eligible to serve and decreased trust in the military, instead of a strong job market, are likely the leading factors for recruitment troubles, the top Marine Corps officer suggested in a November article.

Marine Corps recruits with Bravo Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, squat with a log during log drills at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Nov. 28, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

“The Marine Corps is struggling to recruit talented young Americans in a competitive economy and from a society increasingly distant from the military,” Marine Corps commandant Gen. David Berger wrote in a piece for Naval Institute’s Proceedings. “And we are not alone; all the services are experiencing similar challenges. This concerns me both as the Commandant and as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, because the Marine Corps relies on the other services, and they rely on us, across a web of interdependencies.”

The Marine Corps met its Fiscal Year 2022 recruiting goals, bringing on 33,210 enlisted active-duty Marines. But Berger, and other military leaders, have raised concerns that the branches won’t continue to meet those goals.

The Navy, which just barely met its recruitment goals in FY 2022, raised its age limit for new recruits last month as one way to increase the pool for eligibility. The sea service is also offering enlistment bonuses, a tactic the Army and Air Force also use.

A low unemployment rate in the United States has been one of the most cited reasons for the more difficult recruitment environment, but Berger argues that while it might be a contributing factor, it deserves less of the blame.

“Yet, some of our deepest challenges are chronic, indicating that the strength of the economy may be less critical than commonly thought,” Berger wrote. “For example, the Marine Corps has struggled—in good economic times and bad—to produce and retain an adequate number of pilots, even for the newest, most modern aircraft.”

The commandant, in his article, also evaluates the shrinking pool of eligible candidates. Most recent numbers suggest that 77 percent of Americans between the ages of 17 and 21 are not eligible to serve in the military, retired Rear Adm. Robert Besal, who works with advocacy group Mission Readiness, told USNI News.

The top three reasons for ineligibility are failure to pass entrance exams, health concerns and prior criminal activity, including drug abuse. One of the main health concerns is childhood obesity, which Besal said counts for 30 percent of those who are ineligible.

Mission Readiness is attempting to fix the pool of eligibility by trying to get funding for educational and nutrition programs, Besal said, but that requires getting congressional and other legislative officials to think in the long term.

Programs that would help childhood obesity and failure to pass entrance exams should start with children as young as three years old, Besal said. But the payoff will not be for another 15 years, when that child becomes eligible for service.

Gen. David H. Berger makes remarks during the U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific change of command ceremony on Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Sept. 7, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

But while Mission Readiness looks at what can be done for the future, there are limited options for the services right now to fix the ineligibility problem, Berger wrote.

“Military leaders have few levers to pull to increase the number of Americans eligible for service, and the biggest and most immediate lever—lowering standards—is not one military leaders or most Americans want,” he wrote. “To effect enduring change requires understanding and addressing the declining propensity to serve.”

The economy can contribute to recruitment challenges, but it is a cyclical factor, Asch, who is a senior economist at RAND, told USNI News

Historically, when there is low employment, it’s harder for the military to recruit, she said in an interview Nov. 2. This could be the case for the military right now, but it’s all speculation, she said.

“I don’t think it’s an either-or situation,” Asch said. “I think it’s a matter of understanding the array of factors that could be having an effect and then teasing out their relative importance and for what particular groups, under what circumstances.”

Berger also points out that recruitment challenges persist even when the unemployment rate is higher, which generally is associated with better recruiting, suggesting that the economy, while a factor, is not the sole cause for recruiting woes.

Berger pointed to a lack of trust in the military, a factor that Besal also highlighted.
The military used to be one of the most trusted institutions, Besal said.

“There’s been, I don’t want to just call them all scandals, but there’s been some missteps whether in the active force, whether individual or collective, and some things that should have never occurred,” Besal said. “And so I think that’s something that really will have to take a strain inside the service to straighten that up. Because I think that you’re gonna get fewer people listening to you when you make this plea.”

People have inaccurate views about the military, which does not help the trust issue, Asch said. As an example, people do not always know the difference between the branches of the military or what it means to be a noncommissioned officer.

“People have a lot of ignorance, and that’s increased,” she said.

That ignorance is similar between those who enlist and those who do not, but the difference is that those who choose military service have positive values associated with the military.

Trust in the military is a new problem, but it will take more resear

A recruit embraces with a family member as he is picked up for Recruit Training Command’s (RTC) Thanksgiving Adopt-A-Sailor program. US Navy Photo

In Berger’s piece, he points to a shrinking pool of people who have familial ties to the services.

“A growing percentage of those serving in uniform have a close relative who also served (or is currently serving),” Berger wrote. “In other words, those who are most familiar with the military are most likely to enlist.”

This does play out in recruiting, Asch said, where many recruits do have a family connection.

However, this could hurt the military, as the Military Family Advisory Network’s most recent survey found that military members are increasingly less likely to recommend a military career to a family member.

There was an 11 percent drop between 2019 and 2021 among family members who would recommend service, said Shannon Razsadin, president and executive director of the Military Family Advisory Network.

Approximately 62.9 percent of military participants surveyed by Military Family Advocacy Network would recommend military service to family members, according to the 2021 annual survey. That’s down from 74.5 percent in 2019.

The drop is attributed to low pay, leadership challenges, frequent moves that make it difficult on families, and military benefits that no longer outweigh the challenges that come with service, Razsadin said.

But Berger points out that the pool of eligible military recruits could shrink to those with a family connection if the military does not do more to reach out to those unfamiliar with the military, and the family pool could be shrinking as well.

“Definitely you’re pulling from a smaller pool, because when you had the draft, you know, everyone had the requirement of service,” Razsadin said. “And so these are people who are choosing to make the sacrifices, they’re choosing to serve. And so, of course, it’s gonna be a different percentage than if you had the draft and mandatory service requirements.”

Defense Primer: U.S. Special Operation Forces

The following is the Nov. 21, 2022, Congressional Research Service, Defense Primer: Special Operation Forces. From the report Special Operations Forces (SOF) are those active duty and reserve component forces of the military services designated by the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) and specifically selected, organized, trained, and equipped to conduct and support special operations. Special […]

The following is the Nov. 21, 2022, Congressional Research Service, Defense Primer: Special Operation Forces.

From the report

Special Operations Forces (SOF) are those active duty and reserve component forces of the military services designated by the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) and specifically selected, organized, trained, and equipped to conduct and support special operations. Special operations frequently require unique modes of employment, tactics, techniques, procedures, and equipment. SOF often conducts special operations in hostile, politically, and/or diplomatically sensitive environments, and are characterized by one or more of the following: time-sensitivity, clandestine or covert nature, low visibility, work with or through indigenous forces, greater requirements for regional orientation and cultural expertise, and a high degree of risk. SOF’s core activities are:

  • Direct action
  • Special reconnaissance
  • Countering weapons of mass destruction
  • Counterterrorism
  • Unconventional warfare
  • Foreign internal defense
  • Security force assistance
  • Hostage rescue and recovery
  • Counterinsurgency
  • Foreign humanitarian assistance
  • Military information support operations
  • Civil affairs operations

Selection of SOF Operational Personnel

SOF operational personnel (often referred to as “operators”) undergo a rigorous screening and selection process characterized by a low selection rate. After selection, they receive mission-specific training to achieve proficiency in a variety of special operations skills. SOF operators tend to be experienced personnel and many maintain competency in more than one military specialty. Selected operators have regional, cultural, and linguistic expertise. Some SOF personnel require highly technical and advanced training for anticipated missions such as Military Freefall training, Combat Diver training, and Sniper training.

Command Structure and Components

In 1986, Congress, concerned about the status of SOF within overall U.S. defense planning and budgeting, passed legislation to strengthen special operations’ position within the defense community and to strengthen interoperability among the branches of U.S. SOF. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 1987 (P.L. 99-661), established an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (ASD (SOLIC)) and a new four-star command to prepare Special Operations Forces (SOF) to carry out assigned missions and, if directed by the President or SECDEF, to plan for and conduct special operations.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (ASD (SOLIC))

The ASD (SOLIC) is the principal civilian advisor to the SECDEF on special operations and low-intensity conflict matters. The ASD (SOLIC) has as their principal duty overall supervision (to include oversight of policy and resources) of special operations and low-intensity conflict activities. The ASD (SOLIC) falls under and reports to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (USD (P)). Congress, wanting ASD (SOLIC) to exercise greater oversight of USSOCOM, enacted Section 922, FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 114-328) to facilitate and resource ASD (SOLIC)’s originally intended Service Secretary-like authorities.

U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)

Activated on April 16, 1987, and headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, FL, USSOCOM is the unified Combatant Command (COCOM) responsible for organizing, training, and equipping all U.S. SOF units. Headquarters, USSOCOM consists of approximately 2,500 military and civilian personnel, and overall, the command has more than 70,000 personnel assigned to its headquarters, its service components, and sub-unified commands. The USSOCOM commander is a four-star general officer from any Service, who reports directly to the SECDEF. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, USSOCOM’s responsibilities were expanded in the 2004 Unified Command Plan (UCP), assigning USSOCOM responsibility for coordinating the Department of Defense (DOD) plans against global terrorism and conducting global operations as directed. Since 2016, USSOCOM has also been assigned the roles coordinating authority over countering violent extremist operations (CVEO) and counter weapons of mass destruction (CWMD) operations.

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Defense Primer: U.S. Defense Appropriations Process

The following is the Nov. 17, 2022, Congressional Research Service Defense Primer: Defense Appropriations Process. From the report The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse in Article I, Section 9, which provides that “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” To fulfill this duty, […]

The following is the Nov. 17, 2022, Congressional Research Service Defense Primer: Defense Appropriations Process.

From the report

The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse in Article I, Section 9, which provides that “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” To fulfill this duty, Congress annually considers appropriations measures, which provide funding for numerous activities—such as national defense, education, and homeland security—consistent with policies and priorities established through various enacted measures, such as the National Defense Authorization Act.

The congressional appropriations process includes various rules and practices that Congress has adopted to distinguish appropriations measures and facilitate their consideration. These measures generally provide funding authority in response to the President’s budget request for a fiscal year (October 1 through September 30).

Committees of Jurisdiction

The House and Senate Committees on Appropriations exercise jurisdiction over annual appropriations measures. Each committee has 12 subcommittees, each of which is responsible for developing one regular annual appropriations bill. These measures determine which department activities will be funded. House and Senate Appropriations subcommittee jurisdictions are generally parallel. The main subcommittees that deal with defense matters are:

    • Subcommittees on Defense, with jurisdiction over appropriations for the Departments of Army, Navy (including the Marine Corps), and Air Force (including the Space Force); the Office of the Secretary of Defense; defense agencies; and intelligence activities.
    • Subcommittees on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, with jurisdiction over appropriations for the Military Construction, Chemical Demilitarization Construction, Military Family Housing Construction and Operation and Maintenance, and Base Realignment and Closure accounts; the NATO Security Investment Program; the Department of Veterans Affairs; and other related agencies.
    • Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, with jurisdiction over all defense-related activities of the Department of Energy, including the National Nuclear Security Administration. This subcommittee also has jurisdiction over the civil works activities of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, among other non-defense activities.

The Congressional Budget Resolution

The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-344) provides for the annual consideration of a concurrent resolution on the budget, which allows Congress to establish overall budgetary and fiscal policy to be implemented through enactment of subsequent legislation. The budget resolution, in part, establishes a limit on total new budget authority and outlay levels divided among 20 functional categories—such as national defense, agriculture, and transportation—that set spending priorities.

Section 302(a) of the Congressional Budget Act requires the total new budget authority and outlays in the budget resolution to be allocated among all committees with spending jurisdiction. This establishes ceilings on spending for legislation reported from each committee that can be enforced procedurally through points of order during consideration of the legislation. All discretionary spending is allocated to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, which are required to subdivide this allocation among their 12 subcommittees under Section 302(b) of the Congressional Budget Act. These suballocations are also enforceable during consideration of legislation, preventing the consideration of amendments that would increase funding above these limits. In the absence of agreement on a budget resolution, the House and Senate may use alternative means to establish enforceable limits.

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Defense Primer: U.S. Policy on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems

The following is the Nov. 14, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Defense Primer: U.S. Policy on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems. From the report Lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS) are a special class of weapon systems that use sensor suites and computer algorithms to independently identify a target and employ an onboard weapon system to engage […]

The following is the Nov. 14, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Defense Primer: U.S. Policy on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems.

From the report

Lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS) are a special class of weapon systems that use sensor suites and computer algorithms to independently identify a target and employ an onboard weapon system to engage and destroy the target without manual human control of the system. Although these systems are not yet in widespread development, it is believed they would enable military operations in communications-degraded or -denied environments in which traditional systems may not be able to operate.

Contrary to a number of news reports, U.S. policy does not prohibit the development or employment of LAWS. Although the United States does not currently have LAWS in its inventory, some senior military and defense leaders have stated that the United States may be compelled to develop LAWS in the future if U.S. competitors choose to do so. At the same time, a growing number of states and nongovernmental organizations are appealing to the international community for regulation of or a ban on LAWS due to ethical concerns.

Developments in both autonomous weapons technology and international discussions of LAWS could hold implications for congressional oversight, defense investments, military concepts of operations, treaty-making, and the future of war.

U.S. Policy

Then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter issued DOD’s policy on autonomy in weapons systems, Department of Defense Directive (DODD) 3000.09 (the directive), in November 2012. U.S. defense officials have stated that they plan to release an updated directive by the end of 2022.

Definitions. There is no agreed definition of lethal autonomous weapon systems that is used in international fora. However, DODD 3000.09 provides definitions for different categories of autonomous weapon systems for the purposes of the U.S. military. These definitions are principally grounded in the role of the human operator with regard to target selection and engagement decisions, rather than in the technological sophistication of the weapon system.

DODD 3000.09 defines LAWS as “weapon system[s] that, once activated, can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human operator.” This concept of autonomy is also known as “human out of the loop” or “full autonomy.” The directive contrasts LAWS with human-supervised, or “human on the loop,” autonomous weapon systems, in which operators have the ability to monitor and halt a weapon’s target engagement. Another category is semi-autonomous, or “human in the loop,” weapon systems that “only engage individual targets or specific target groups that have been selected by a human operator.” Semi-autonomous weapons include so-called “fire and forget” weapons, such as certain types of guided missiles, that deliver effects to human-identified targets using autonomous functions.

The directive does not cover “autonomous or semi-autonomous cyberspace systems for cyberspace operations; unarmed, unmanned platforms; unguided munitions; munitions manually guided by the operator (e.g., laser- or wire-guided munitions); mines; [and] unexploded explosive ordnance,” nor subject them to its guidelines.

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GAO Report on Pentagon Cybersecurity Incidents

The following is the Nov. 14, 2022, Government Accountability Office report, DoD Cybersecurity: Enhanced Attention Needed to Ensure Cyber Incidents Are Appropriately Reported and Shared. From the report The Department of Defense (DOD) and our nation’s defense industrial base (DIB)—which includes entities outside the federal government that provide goods or services critical to meeting U.S. […]

The following is the Nov. 14, 2022, Government Accountability Office report, DoD Cybersecurity: Enhanced Attention Needed to Ensure Cyber
Incidents Are Appropriately Reported and Shared.

From the report

The Department of Defense (DOD) and our nation’s defense industrial base (DIB)—which includes entities outside the federal government that provide goods or services critical to meeting U.S. military requirements—are dependent on information systems to carry out their operations. These systems continue to be the target of cyber attacks, as DOD has experienced over 12,000 cyber incidents since 2015 (see figure).To combat these incidents, DOD has established two processes for managing cyber incidents—one for all incidents and one for critical incidents. However, DOD has not fully implemented either of these processes.

GAO Graphic

Despite the reduction in the number of incidents due to DOD efforts, weaknesses in reporting these incidents remain. For example, DOD’s system for reporting all incidents often contained incomplete information and DOD could not always demonstrate that they had notified appropriate leadership of relevant critical incidents. The weaknesses in the implementation of the two processes are due to DOD not assigning an organization responsible for ensuring proper incident reporting and compliance with guidance, among other reasons. Until DOD assigns such responsibility, DOD does not have assurance that its leadership has an accurate picture of the department’s cybersecurity posture.

In addition, DOD has not yet decided whether DIB cyber incidents detected by cybersecurity service providers should be shared with all relevant stakeholders, according to officials. DOD guidance states that to protect the interests of national security, cyber incidents must be coordinated among and across DOD organizations and outside sources, such as DIB partners. Until DOD examines whether this information should be shared with all relevant parties, there could be lost opportunities to identify system threats and improve system weaknesses.

DOD has established a process for determining whether to notify individuals of a breach of their personally identifiable information (PII). This process includes conducting a risk assessment that considers three factors—the nature and sensitivity of the PII, likelihood of access to and use of the PII, and the type of the breach. However, DOD has not consistently documented the notifications of affected individuals, because officials said notifications are often made verbally or by email and no record is retained. Without documenting the notification, DOD cannot verify that people were informed about the breach.

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GAO Report on Gaps in U.S. Military Aircraft Readiness

The following is the Nov. 10, 2022, Government Accountability Office report, Weapon System Sustainment Aircraft Mission Capable Goals Were Generally Not Met and Sustainment Costs Varied by Aircraft. From the report GAO examined 49 aircraft and found that only four met their annual mission capable goal in a majority of the years from fiscal years […]

The following is the Nov. 10, 2022, Government Accountability Office report, Weapon System Sustainment Aircraft Mission Capable Goals Were Generally Not Met and Sustainment Costs Varied by Aircraft.

From the report

GAO examined 49 aircraft and found that only four met their annual mission capable goal in a majority of the years from fiscal years 2011 through 2021. As shown below, 26 aircraft did not meet their annual mission capable goal in any fiscal year. The mission capable rate—the percentage of total time when the aircraft can fly and perform at least one mission—is used to assess the health and readiness of an aircraft fleet.

Comparing fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2021, the average mission capable rate for the selected aircraft has fallen for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, to varying degrees. The average mission capable rate for the selected Army aircraft has risen.

For fiscal year 2021, GAO found that only two of the 49 aircraft examined met the service-established mission capable goal. More specifically, for fiscal year 2021, 30 aircraft were more than 10 percentage points below the mission capable goal in fiscal year 2021; and 17 aircraft were 10 percentage points or less below the mission capable goal in fiscal year 2021.

Many of the selected aircraft are facing one or more sustainment challenges, as shown below. According to program officials, these challenges have an effect on mission capable rates.

Operating and support (O&S) costs totaled about $54 billion in fiscal year 2020 for the reviewed aircraft—a decrease of about $2.9 billion since fiscal year 2011 after factoring in inflation using constant fiscal year 2020 dollars. Maintenance costs became a larger portion of O&S costs—increasing by $1.2 billion since fiscal year 2011. Air Force and Army O&S costs have decreased, while Navy and Marine Corps O&S costs have increased. Based on our analysis and information provided by the program offices, these trends have largely been driven by changes in the size of aircraft inventory and reduced flying hours. Additionally, O&S costs have varied widely across aircraft fleets. For example, the total fiscal year 2020 O&S costs for the systems we reviewed ranged from about $97 million for the KC-130T fleet (Navy and Marine Corps) to a high of about $4.3 billion for the F-16 fleet (Air Force). Based on our analysis and information provided by the system program offices, cost variances were based on aircraft type and factors such as age of the fleet, the number of aircraft included in the inventory, and the number of flying hours flown by a fleet.

The Department of Defense (DOD) spends tens of billions of dollars annually to sustain its weapon systems in an effort to ensure that these systems are available to simultaneously support today’s military operations and maintain the capability to meet future defense requirements. This report provides observations on mission capable rates and costs to operate and sustain 49 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.

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Navy Used 16-Year-Old Law Made to Boost Army Recruiting to Raise Enlistment Age for Sailors

The Navy will now allow men and women up to age 41 to enlist in the service, a new change in policy for which it has the Army to thank. Under the change, made by Navy Recruiting Command this month, the new maximum age for Navy recruits is 41, as long as the person enlisting […]

Recruits with the 64th Annual Recruit Cardinal Division stand at attention during a pass-in-review graduation ceremony inside Midway Ceremonial Drill Hall at Recruit Training Command, Nov. 4, 2022. US Navy Photo

The Navy will now allow men and women up to age 41 to enlist in the service, a new change in policy for which it has the Army to thank.

Under the change, made by Navy Recruiting Command this month, the new maximum age for Navy recruits is 41, as long as the person enlisting can report to training before their 42nd birthday, according to the new policy.

The service made the change to increase the potential enlistment pool, Cmdr. David Benham, a spokesperson for Navy Recruiting Command, said in an email.

“As we continue to navigate a challenging recruiting environment, raising the enlistment age allows us to widen the pool of potential recruits, creating opportunities for personnel who wish to serve, but were previously unable due to age,” Benham said in the email.
While the overall enlistment age is now two years older, certain positions in the Navy have their own age cutoffs, Benham said.

The Navy will now be the service with the oldest enlisted recruits –the service already accepted commissioned officer recruits until 42. The cutoff age for the Army is 39, although waivers will be accepted for people up to 45 years old. The Air Force and Space Force also accept enlisted recruits up to age 39, while the Marine Corps stops at 28 years old.

While the Navy will now have the oldest recruits, the Army was the first branch to up its age limit to 42.

Each service sets its age for accepting recruits, but the minimum and maximum ages for the military are set by Congress, which now does it through the National Defense Authorization Act.
Congress initially set the recruiting age limits in 1968, with men no younger than 17 years old and no older than 35 years old allowed to join the services, although they needed parental permission if younger than 18. Women were able to join if they were 18, but they needed parental permission if younger than 21, according to the Public Law 90-235 that added the age restrictions to the U.S. Code.

In 1974, Congress amended the U.S. Code to make age limits uniform between men and women, according to the Veterans Insurance Act of 1974.

In 2006, at the behest of the Army and the Pentagon, Congress changed the maximum age for enlisted recruits to 42 in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006.
The Army pushed for the age increase to 42, and in June 2005, the Pentagon filed paperwork with Congress asking to increase the maximum age for all branches, according to a 2005 report in the Chicago Tribune article.

The Pentagon asked for 42 to be the maximum age because it would bring enlisted age limits in line with those set for commissioned officers, according to the Tribune article. Joining the military at 42 would allow a person to serve 20 years before the mandatory retirement age of 62, although there are some exceptions.

The reason for increasing the age in 2006 is the same as the one 16 years later. Increasing the age limit increases the pool of eligible recruits.

By September 2006, there were some new recruits in the Army who were over 40, according to a Christian Science Monitor article. There were 11 recruits over 40, while there were 405 over 35.

The Army reverted its age limit back to 35 on April 1, 2011.

Report on Armed Conflict in Syria and U.S. Response

The following is the Nov. 8, 2020, Congressional Research Service report, Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response. From the report In March 2022, the Syria conflict marked its 11th year. Analysts estimate that the conflict has killed over half a million people (including combatants) and displaced half of Syria’s prewar population. Challenges for […]

The following is the Nov. 8, 2020, Congressional Research Service report, Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response.

From the report

In March 2022, the Syria conflict marked its 11th year. Analysts estimate that the conflict has killed over half a million people (including combatants) and displaced half of Syria’s prewar population. Challenges for U.S. policymakers in Syria include countering groups linked to Al Qaeda, responding to the threat posed by Islamic State (IS/ISIS) remnants and detainees, facilitating humanitarian assistance, and managing Russian and Iranian challenges to U.S. operations.

Conflict Status. In early 2022, United Nations (U.N.) Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen described the conflict in Syria—between the Syrian government and its partners on one side and various opposition and extremist groups on the other side—as a “stalemate,” noting that “militarily, front lines remain unshifted.” Pedersen stated that “any of a number of flashpoints could ignite a broader conflagration.” In 2022, incoming U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) commander General Michael Kurilla stated that the Asad government is “positioned to end the civil war militarily,” but noted that the underlying conditions driving the conflict (including political disenfranchisement, poverty, water scarcity, and economic instability) would likely persist.

Islamic State. Despite the territorial defeat in Syria of the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS, ISIL, or the Arabic acronym Daesh) in 2019 by U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces (known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF), IS fighters continue to operate as an insurgency. The SDF holds roughly 10,000 IS detainees—whom CENTCOM officials have described as “an ISIS army in waiting”—in detention facilities described as “overcrowded, ad-hoc structures that were not built to house detainees.” In January 2022, U.S. air and ground forces in Syria joined Kurdish partner forces in a lengthy battle to retake a prison seized by IS fighters, which renewed concern among policymakers regarding the security of IS detainees in SDF custody.

External Actors. Five countries operate in or maintain military forces in Syria: Russia, Turkey, Iran, Israel, and the United States. U.S. and Russian forces operate in close proximity in northern Syria, and maintain a deconfliction channel to avoid inadvertent conflict between the respective forces. Turkey also maintains forces in northern Syria, at times targeting Kurdish elements of SDF forces that the Turkish government views as terrorists. Israel reportedly conducts regular air strikes inside Syria on Iranian, Syrian, and Hezbollah targets that the Israeli government views as threats to its security.

Humanitarian Situation. According to the United Nations 2022 Humanitarian Needs Overview for Syria, 14.6 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, an increase of 1.2 million from 2021. In 2014, the U.N. Security Council authorized the provision of cross-border humanitarian assistance into Syria via four approved crossing points; subsequent Russian vetoes have since reduced the U.N. authorization to a single crossing. In July 2022, the U.N. Security Council renewed its authorization for cross-border assistance into Syria for a period of 6 months, following a Russian veto of a 12-month extension. The new resolution is scheduled to expire on January 10, 2023.

U.S. Policy. Biden Administration officials have stated that the United States seeks a political settlement to the conflict in Syria consistent with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254 (2015). U.S. policy priorities in Syria include (1) defeating the Islamic State and Al Qaeda; (2) increasing access to humanitarian aid; (3) reducing violence by maintaining local cease-fires; and (4) promoting accountability for atrocity crimes committed during the course of the conflict.

U.S. Military Presence. Roughly 900 U.S. troops operate in Syria in support of counter-IS operations by local partner forces, as part of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR). U.S. forces in Syria continue to face threats from Iran-backed militias, which have targeted U.S. positions in the country.

Policy Debates. Policymakers are faced with a number of—at times competing—policy priorities in Syria. The Islamic State seeks to exploit deteriorating economic conditions in the country; however, projects to bolster economic activity in Syria may have the unintended effect of aiding the Asad government. Similarly, policymakers disagree on whether the benefits of efforts to alleviate economic conditions in neighboring Lebanon outweigh the risk that these efforts could benefit Asad. Policymakers also face the additional complications of regional states, including U.S. allies, pursuing their own objectives in Syria, whether in the form of military operations or efforts to normalize diplomatic ties with the Asad government.

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Report to Congress on Great Power Competition

The following is the Nov. 8, 2022 report, Renewed Great Power Competition: Implications for Defense— Issues for Congress. From the report The emergence over the past decade of intensified U.S. competition with the People’s Republic of China (PRC or China) and the Russian Federation (Russia)—often referred to as great power competition (GPC)—has profoundly changed the […]

The following is the Nov. 8, 2022 report, Renewed Great Power Competition: Implications for Defense— Issues for Congress.

From the report

The emergence over the past decade of intensified U.S. competition with the People’s Republic of China (PRC or China) and the Russian Federation (Russia)—often referred to as great power competition (GPC)—has profoundly changed the conversation about U.S. defense issues from what it was during the post–Cold War era: Counterterrorist operations and U.S. military operations in the Middle East—which had been more at the center of discussions of U.S. defense issues following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001—are now a less-prominent element in the conversation, and the conversation now focuses more on the following elements, all of which relate largely to China and/or Russia:

  • grand strategy and geopolitics as a starting point for discussing U.S. defense issues;
  • the force-planning standard, meaning the number and types of simultaneous or overlapping conflicts or other contingencies that the U.S. military should be sized to be able to conduct—a planning factor that can strongly impact the size of the U.S. defense budget;
  • organizational changes within the Department of Defense (DOD);
  • nuclear weapons, nuclear deterrence, and nuclear arms control;
  • global U.S. military posture;
  • U.S. and allied military capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region;
  • U.S. and NATO military capabilities in Europe;
  • new U.S. military service operational concepts;
  • capabilities for conducting so-called high-end conventional warfare;
  • maintaining U.S. superiority in conventional weapon technologies;
  • innovation and speed of U.S. weapon system development and deployment;
  • mobilization capabilities for an extended-length large-scale conflict;
  • supply chain security, meaning awareness and minimization of reliance in U.S. military systems on foreign components, subcomponents, materials, and software; and
  • capabilities for countering so-called hybrid warfare and gray-zone tactics.

The issue for Congress is how U.S. defense planning and budgeting should respond to GPC and whether to approve, reject, or modify the Biden Administration’s defense strategy and proposed funding levels, plans, and programs for addressing GPC. Congress’s decisions on these issues could have significant implications for U.S. defense capabilities and funding requirements and the U.S. defense industrial base.

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