WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), the first female combat veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, today was the keynote speaker at the Heritage Foundation’s launch of their annual “Index of Military Strength” report.

Senator Ernst discussed the threats facing our armed forces, the work she is doing as the Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee chairman, and the role Congress plays to fund and modernize our military, including addressing wasteful spending by the Department of Defense.

Senator Ernst delivers remarks the Heritage Foundation.

Senator Ernst’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Good morning everyone! Thank you for being here today.

“Let me begin by thanking Heritage President Kay Coles James for that wonderful introduction. Thanks also to Tom Spoehr and Dakota Wood and the Heritage staff who work tirelessly on these important issues facing our nation, and for organizing today’s event.

“Whether you live in Iowa, or Mississippi, or California, our nation’s defense impacts all of us, every single day. 

“The freedoms we enjoy…the protection from our enemies…and the men and women… friends and family, deployed around the world to keep us safe.  

“Indeed the very survival of our country, our values, and the American way of life rests on the solid foundation of our national defense.

“The raid carried out by our brave special operators in Syria this weekend once again reminds us that at any given moment, America’s armed forces are deployed worldwide to protect our homeland. 

“These successes do not come by chance. Nor can they be taken for granted. The world continues to undergo significant change, with no shortages of threats facing us abroad and right here at home.

“This is my second year in a row speaking at the launch of the Index of Military Strength and one of the nice things about that is it gives me an opportunity to reflect on what’s changed over the year.  And folks, we all know a lot has.  In terms of policy…. in terms of personnel…. and in terms of our security posture.

“As a mother, as a veteran, and as a Senator, I can tell you that this year’s Index of U.S. Military Strength highlights the real threats which keep me up at night.

“Since 2015 most threats to the United States have grown in capability and maintained their aggressive behavior.

“Military modernization efforts implemented by Russia and China have borne fruit.  These adversaries are investing in capabilities which seek to offset American strengths and military advantages.

“As chairman of the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, I have examined closely the strides our global competitors have made.

“Russia has turned an army of rag-tag conscripts following the collapse of the Soviet Union into a modern and professional fighting force. 

“It is investing in technologies like hypersonic weapons, disruptive cyber capabilities, and modern aircraft…all with the goal of projecting Russian power around the world, including deploying bombers to Venezuela and South Africa.

“The use of hybrid warfare and information manipulation coupled with these technologies gives Russia an asymmetric advantage in many of the regions it operates.

“And then there’s China.

“China has rapidly invested in anti-ship ballistic missiles, hypersonics, and artificial intelligence while significantly growing the size and capability of their naval forces.  The goal: challenge American primacy in the Pacific.

“By bullying its neighbors in the South China Sea to accept Chinese supremacy and trapping many developing countries through predatory lending practices through its belt and road initiative, China uniquely combines its growing military might with its economic strength. 

“In comparing the threats posed by Russia and China, make no mistake: while the Russian strategy is to disrupt the United States, it is China’s intent to displace us.

“China seeks to expand everywhere America is perceived to be retreating. 

“Meanwhile, the threat posed by the radical regime in Iran, the growing nuclear capabilities of North Korea, and the ever-present threat of violent extremist organizations will continue to demand our attention for the foreseeable future.

“Given what we’ve seen going on in Northern Syria, I recently introduced a resolution asking the Department of Defense and the State Department to articulate a clear strategy on how we will ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS. 

“al-Baghdadi’s take-down was a huge, huge, victory, but we must prevent ISIS from re-emerging. Their propaganda machine must be destroyed or we will face real consequences in our communities at home.

“With all of this in mind, it is incumbent upon my colleagues and I in Congress to ensure we arm our men and women in uniform with every advantage.  We must stave off the threats just outlined and to ensure both our allies and our adversaries never question our resolve or our capabilities.

“We cannot allow tomorrow to be the day that China makes a calculation that taking Taiwan by force would result in anything but failure.

“And we cannot allow Russia to decide the United States and our NATO allies would back down following a Russian invasion of the Baltic States.

“In this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, I focused on some key issues that will help shape our fighting force for the years to come, like investing in emerging capabilities such as artificial intelligence, directed energy, advanced manufacturing, and autonomous systems.

“At the end of the day, American ingenuity will become critical in evolving how we fight.

“Folks, we need to take a hard look at systems that are no longer applicable to the current or the future fight.

“Hard choices must be made to divest of legacy systems that lack the mobility or survivability in a high-end fight, or those that are already outranged or outgunned.

“Our great Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, has already begun holding “night court” at the Department of Defense in much the same way he did during his time as Army Secretary. He closely scrutinizes every program and is having hard discussions on why a program should or should not be retained.

“I welcome his leadership in this regard and will do everything I can to support him.

“The readiness of our fighting men and women must also remain at the forefront in Congress and at DOD.

“As this year’s index points out, all of the services have prioritized readiness and have made improvements since last year, but significant work remains.

“From pilot shortages, backlogs in ship maintenance, and missed recruiting goals, daunting challenges threaten the readiness of our formations at a time when they must be more ready than ever to defend our homeland.

“One of the less “sexy” areas of SASC work, but one that I’ve made a top priority, is making sure your tax dollars are spent wisely. 

“Folks, I firmly believe that debt and government waste and inefficiency are often the real and ignored threat to our national security. 

“And I want to emphasize the following message today: defense hawk and budget hawk are not mutually exclusive terms.

“I challenge my colleagues in the defense world to get serious about cutting waste. And I challenge our budget hawks to look at the threats we face and help us make decisions that contribute to our national security.

“The continuing resolution we passed at the beginning of this fiscal year was no way to do business. Our servicemembers deserve better. 

“With a defense budget that has grown significantly over the years, it is our duty in Congress to provide the oversight and guidance to prevent waste and ensure transparency.

“Taxpayers in my home state of Iowa and across the country must have faith that the programs in which we are investing are serving to underpin the long-term security and survival of our great nation.

“To that end, I applaud DOD for their work in auditing the department and stand ready to work with them as they identify and correct deficiencies.

“Furthermore, as the Chinese economy continues to grow, we must make wiser investments that do not match our adversaries dollar for dollar; rather, we must ensure that every dollar we spend will provide the capabilities we actually need.  We must strive to reduce wasteful inefficiencies which we cannot afford.

“Thank you all again for your time and attention this morning. I look forward to continuing my work in Congress to support our national defense, and thank all of you for the work you do in shaping sound defense policy in support of our warfighters.”