House Armed Services Committee Forms Task Force to Study Future Defense Needs

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) questions senior military leaders during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, March 7, 2017. DOD photo by Sgt. James McCann.

The House Armed Services Committee is standing up a panel to look at future military capabilities, addressing what some lawmakers see as a lack of people asking the right questions about how the Pentagon should evolve.

HASC’s Future of Defense Task Force, first unveiled Oct. 18, will hold its first hearing Oct. 29 to discuss the “theories of victory” that the Pentagon could need in the coming decades. The task force plans to produce a report in about six months that will review “defense assets and capabilities and assess the state of the national security innovation base to meet emerging threats,” according to the committee.

The task force is co-chaired by Reps. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.). Moulton served as ranking member on the HASC oversight and investigations subcommittee before Democrats took control of the House this year and axed that panel, Politico first reported.

“We don’t think that enough people are asking the big-picture, long-range questions,” Moulton told reporters Oct. 22 on Capitol Hill. “I don’t think you’ll find many people in the Pentagon who disagree with that.”

While Congress has directed some research into future defense needs, such as the Air Force’s “The Force We Need” review, the task force wants to look at broader issues, innovation, and evolving technologies that might get overlooked as lawmakers focus on more immediate defense policy bills.

The task force allows representatives to “take a step back and focus on meatier issues,” Banks added. It also includes Reps. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.), Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.) and Michael Waltz (R-Fla.).

It’s Congress’s job as an oversight body to ensure the Pentagon is “investing in the right things in the future,” Moulton said. The task force’s forthcoming report will be tailored to “ask the most important questions. Think not just about how decisions are made today,” but ensuring the Defense Department has an innovative culture, he added.

Michele Flournoy, the co-founder and managing partner at WestExec Advisors who ran the Center for a New American Security and served as the under secretary of defense for policy from 2009 to 2012, and Jim Talent, co-chair of the Reagan Institute Task Force and former Republican senator from Missouri, will appear at the first hearing, according to the committee’s website.

Moulton and Banks declined to provide further details about future hearings, but said they plan to call up “outside-the-box thinkers.”