Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is notorious for his work ethic and for not sleeping much, as any reporter or staff who has traveled with him on overseas work trips can tell. Even during overnight flights, the retired Marine general is often seen walking about and talking to staff.
But taking a look at what the Pentagon has done so far with him at the helm, it is clear why. At a rare press conference earlier this week, Mattis discussed some of the historic changes he has overseen since he took office about 19 months ago.
Under his watch, the Pentagon released a National Defense Strategy — “the first of its kind in a decade” — that gave guidance to departments below on how to tie their budget requests to strategy, he said. The strategy also marked a major shift from counterterrorism to great power competition with China and Russia.
The Pentagon also requested, and received, its largest annual budget ever — $719 billion, that would pay for the largest increase in troop pay raises in nine years, and modernize and restore the military to face future threats.
In recent years, there had been bitter partisan fights over defense spending. This year, Mattis pushed hard on Capitol Hill to get the annual defense budget authorization passed, in order to restore the military, which had been depleted after two decades of non-stop war and more than five years of sequestration cuts.
In addition, he said, it was the earliest in the year since 1977 that a budget authorization has passed.
“Our military continues to grow stronger, more lethal, more agile, and certainly more deployable than a year ago,” Mattis told reporters.
He has also implemented the Pentagon’s first budget audit — after years of Congress asking for one. “We will be rigorously examining our spending plans and our audit, DOD’s first, is in full swing,” he said.
Mattis also discussed progress on his three top priorities: increasing lethality, strengthening alliances and building new partnerships internationally, and reforming the way the department does business.
Under Mattis, the Pentagon has elevated Cyber Command to full combatant command status. It is also working with the White House to create the Space Force.
“We recognize cyberspace and outer space as war-fighting domains on par with air, land and sea. And these two domains, cyberspace and outer space, were made contested domains by the actions of others,” he told reporters.
The Pentagon has also established a Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, to experiment with new concepts on AI. It has also created the Close Combat Lethality Task Force, to accelerate fielding advanced equipment and to train our warfighters “at the speed of relevance.”
The Pentagon has released a Nuclear Posture Review outlining steps necessary to modernize the nation’s nuclear deterrent.
Mattis implemented new standards to improve deployability of troops, so they are ready to “fight and win” any time anywhere.
Strengthening Alliances and Building Partnerships
On strengthening alliances and building new U.S. partnerships, Mattis said he has traveled to 57 countries so far as defense secretary.
“Our goal is to improve consultation, cooperation, and burden-sharing so we can best deter the threats and the competition I mentioned earlier, because we are stronger alongside like-minded nations,” he said.
He said there were “tangible results” at last month’s NATO summit. “Discussions were candid and they went to the heart of burden-sharing issues. Several of my counterparts told me it was the most productive meeting they’d attended.”
He said all 29 NATO members are now spending more on defense.
“No longer is the question one of reducing defense budgets…No longer is the question of whether to spend more. The only questions now are how much to increase, and by when. All recommitted to spending two percent of GDP on defense by 2024,” he said.
A number of other important decisions were made at the summit, including to stand up two new headquarters in Germany and Norfolk, Virginia. The U.S. also gained “full commitment” to NATO members being able to field the “four 30s” in a crisis — 30 air squadrons, 30 naval ships, 30 combat battalions, all available to fight within 30 days.
NATO members and partners also pledged more than 1,000 forces for Afghanistan.
In the Indo-Pacific region, he said this year was the first time in history that a Latin American country — Chile — participated in Rim of the Pacific, the world’s largest naval exercise led by the U.S. Navy.
In South Asia, he said the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have now joined the NATO-led campaign in Afghanistan, and 32 of 39 coalition members have pledged forces through 2019.
In Afghanistan, where progress has been rocky, he cited a recent statement by a Taliban leader that recently made specific mention of negotiations as a way to bring the end of the war.
“This is one of the most forward-leaning statements made yet by a Taliban supreme leader,” he said. He noted ceasefire efforts have had the backing of religious groups in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Indonesia.
Mattis said Islamic State-held territory is now down to “less than two percent” of the land they once controlled in Iraq and Syria. One of the first things Mattis did upon taking charge was to review and implement a new ISIS strategy, speeding up the fight.
Pentagon Business Reform
In addition to the Pentagon’s first audit, he said the department has realized nearly $4 billion in savings in 2018, which will be applied to more lethality.
Mattis said the Pentagon has also initiated the repeal of several hundred “unnecessary regulations” across the department, which will enhance efficiency, and make it easier for industry partners to work with the Pentagon.
The split into two difference offices of Acquisitions, Technology and Logistics, as directed by Congress to better focus on acquisition and sustainment, and research and engineering, was also completed, Mattis said.
“The bottom line,” Mattis said, “DOD is making significant progress along our three strategic lines of effort. Our strategic framework is proving applicable across our far-flung department’s operations, and we will continue to drive results in the months and years ahead.”