ICYMI: POLITICO PRO Q&A: Rep. Mike Turner
By JEN JUDSON
2/3/15 3:37 PM EST
Rep. Mike Turner is positioning the House Armed Services panel he chairs to be the one that really gets after sequestration, examining its impacts from every angle.
This year, the Ohio Republican hopes his Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee will spend less time dickering over the details of plagued Defense Department programs and focus more on the capabilities needed for the military to meet its worldwide missions that will hopefully translate to smarter acquisition decisions.
Turner has presided over the subcommittee since 2013. Among some of his key issues: the fate of the Army’s heavy vehicle production capability and the tumultuous F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. For several years, he has opposed the Army’s proposal to halt two General Dynamics Abrams tank production lines in Lima, Ohio, and York, Pennsylvania, and reopen them later when it needs new tanks.
In a wide-ranging interview, Turner discussed with POLITICO his goals and ambitions ahead.
Here are some edited excerpts:
What are your top priorities this year?
The top priority is ensuring that sequestration gets set aside. Our committee is going to try to do the ground work of painting the picture of what will happen if sequestration took place and documenting the effects of past sequestration. It’s just very essential that people understand what has happened, what is at stake. These are not Chicken Little-sky-is-falling predictions, these are actual real devastating, debilitating cuts that must be set aside.
What are some examples you find most alarming?
Really, all aspects of training were affected, which of course has a cascading effect for research, development and acquisition. Sequestration wasn’t an across-the-board or top-line cut, it was a strategic, foundational cut to defense, so the ability to deploy, to field new systems and win was impacted.
We did not anticipate six months ago heavier operations in the Middle East against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, how is that affecting your approach?
Well, that is the second goal. The second goal is taking the programs of the committee and aligning them with our new global threats and, in that, we don’t want to just look at what systems are in place and what are the future systems that are being planned. Our assessment is going to be what are our threats, how do we see them evolving and what do we need to match those. How does that then relate to what work we are doing and where are there gaps?
How do you plan to get at that?
First, we are doing a straight-up hearing on sequestration itself that will look prospectively and at past effects. Then, as we enter into debates of specific systems, we are looking at the mission that those systems respond to. For example, for the A-10 [Warthog] debate, we are asking the question of how do we do close air support, what are the strategies or the goals, what are the threats that we have that require close air support and how best to respond to it.
Similarly, for surveillance, the Air Force has been in this contradictory position of arguing they want to retire the Global Hawk and the next year coming in and arguing that they want to retire the U-2 without any clear strategies or goals as to what their surveillance portfolio will look like. Defining that portfolio will help us define what the mix should be of the assets that we have.
DoD has allowed the budget to drive their policy proposals and that has resulted in them arguing disingenuously for or against systems that perhaps they need. What we need is to bring some baseline back to the discussion that is not just monetary.
What’s your next priority after that?
My third area is bringing some sanity to the overall acquisition process. The Army has, unbelievably, argued that they don’t need tank funding, that they do need tank funding and leaving stranded or abandoned a very unique government-owned manufacturing facility that can only produce these types of heavy vehicles. Closing and reopening is an impossible task, but yet the Army has argued the irrational position of closure and reopening for several years in a row.
Congress has saved [the Abrams tank production line] three years in a row, and it’s time for the Army to come forward and provide a sane proposal as to how they are going to sustain their heavy vehicle capability.
Couple that with the Air Force arguing retiring competing systems ineffectively. There is not a clear strategy, and our goal is to take it back to the discussion of the mission and then the systems.
What about the aviation restructure initiative? Do you think it’s a good idea? Is the commission Congress authorized to study it a good thing?
We are going to have a specific hearing [on March 26] that is targeted just on that issue, and I think our goal is to provide the appropriate oversight. I think the Army is responding to some very critical needs but at the same time we want to make certain there aren’t mistakes being made.
What other issues will you address?
Certainly, we are going to do [a hearing] on the F-35 and the goal there is obviously to continue to provide oversight and accountability and contrast it with some real accomplishments of the program.
Overlapping with the issue of F-35 is the need for 5th generation capability and, in part, that requires a look at what others are doing … China and Russia and what our adversaries are going to be fielding in the future and how we may or may not be denied access in air space.
We continue to be concerned for the warfighter individually; weight, capability, protection and how the systems that they use for personal protection and warfighting affect their capability and health.
What’s your take on some of the global challenges that we face. Do you think we need to put more forces, for instance, in Eastern Europe?
Do we need to have more robust training programs for the Iraqi Army and Syrian rebels?
Yes. We need to have flexible forces that are highly capable to address even the unforeseen. We don’t know what we are going to see in 2015. If you look at Libya, you look at Yemen, either one of those countries could instantly become a greater threat to the Army. You have internal chaos and turmoil, but the moment that begins to affect outside their borders you are going to have a real situation that is going to require response.
Syria and Iraq are not going to remain in stagnant position that they are in, they are going to continue to grow as a threat and become even more dangerous.
With respect to Russia and Iran and ISIS, I think there is a fallacy within our foreign policy that we don’t listen to our adversaries. If they claim that they are our adversaries, I think they mean it.
Should we adhere to troop withdrawal dates set in Afghanistan?
End dates are never wise. Why would you tell your opponent when you are quitting, because all they have to do is wait.
The metrics have to be are we safer?. Are situations becoming more stable?
Should [the Overseas Contingency Operations account] go away eventually, or should there be a permanent but maybe smaller account?
I think it’s an excellent tool of ensuring that contingency operations do not eat away at the base funding for the DoD. Some people criticize it as not being reflective of the true cost of defense. But it’s even more reflective of the true cost of defense because you have to have funding to be able to sustain your capability then there is an additional cost when it’s required to be used.
Do you think the Asia Pacific pivot should still be a DoD focus given the turmoil in the Middle East?
I think the Asia pivot is a great example of the Obama administration’s failures in foreign policy because it’s a policy by its name that angers everyone. If you are not in Asia, you feel like we are leaving. And if you are in Asia, you are questioning why we are coming. The reality is we have always been in the Pacific, and I think the capabilities that DoD sees for the future were a natural outgrowth of the direction we were going prior to the president’s pronouncement of a pivot.