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Secretary of Defense Remarks at CSBA on the NDS and Future Defense Modernization Priorities

CSBA PRESIDENT TOM MAHNKEN:  For a quarter century now, we've been in the business of developing and promulgating new ideas about national defense, new ideas about policy and strategy, concepts and capabilities, and budgets and resources.  And throughout our history, we've sought to be an independent, objective voice promoting innovative solutions to the nation's problems.

Given that focus, it's altogether appropriate that we welcome Secretary Esper here today to speak about future defense modernization priorities.  So I'd like to turn the floor over to Secretary Esper for his remarks, followed by a discussion.

Secretary Esper, welcome to CSBA.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE MARK T. ESPER:  Well, good afternoon, everyone, and thank you, Dr. Mahnken, Tom, thank you for that kind introduction and for moderating the discussion after I'm done.  So it's great to be back, it's been some time, and I'm pleased that we could do this today.

So it is great again to be here at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, whose nonpartisan research has been instrumental in shaping national security decisions for more than two decades.  In the years to come, we will need your expertise more than ever as we continue to implement the National Defense Strategy and adapt the United States Military to an era of great power competition.

As many of you know, we are doing so along three lines of effort.  First, building a more lethal force.  Second, we are strengthening alliances and partnerships.  And third, we are reforming the department to redirect our time, money and manpower to our highest priorities.  I'd also add a fourth line of effort.  That is, taking care of our service members and their families.

As I reported last summer -- I'm sorry – as I reported this summer, at my one-year anniversary as secretary of defense, we have made solid progress on these lines of effort, which we further distilled into 10 discrete objectives.  These include tasks such as focusing the department on China and designing a coordinated plan to strengthen our allies and build partners, and updating our key war plans.

It also extends to reforming the fourth estate, achieving a higher level of readiness and implementing enhanced operational concepts such as dynamic force employment.

I've spoken about some of these accomplishments previously.  Today, I'd like to focus on another key objective:  our plans to modernize the force, specifically our great Navy.

For more than seven decades, the United States Navy has maintained unmatched superiority on, above, beneath, and from the seas.  But this wasn't always the case.  After the Civil War, the United States Navy fell into decline at a stunning pace.  Our nation's bloodiest war had taken its toll and weary Americans sought to redirect the country's resources elsewhere.

The size of the fleet plummeted from hundreds of vessels to less than 50, and many of the ships in commission were in disrepair.  For a maritime nation, the United States was ill prepared for a naval conflict.

That is until a new generation of innovators and forward thinkers led the charge to rebuild the nation's fleet.  At one end were strategic planners and theorists like Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan and his seminal work on the influence of sea power.  At the other end were statesmen such as then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt.

Inspired by Mahan's writings, Roosevelt recognized the outsized impact of naval superiority in an increasingly interconnected world.  As fate would have it, Roosevelt later ascended to the presidency and, along with a cadre of likeminded leaders and partners in Congress, set the Navy on course to becoming the most advanced and powerful fleet in the world.

We are at a similar historical crossroads today.  Over the past several years, the department had to recover from the crippling effects of sequestration, inadequate funding, continuing resolutions, and years of budget uncertainty.  We also placed insufficient attention on the high-end fight, which many believed was behind us with the Cold War's end.

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