By U.S. Department of Defense
This special report highlights some of the Defense Department’s most critical issues. While the department intensified its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who took office in February, launched initiatives to build the force of the future, seek breakthrough technologies and open opportunities for women. The department also continued missions in the Asia-Pacific region, Eastern Europe and Afghanistan, and emerged from budget uncertainty with a multiyear deal.
- The Fight Against ISIL
U.S. and coalition forces have intensified their strategy for Operation Inherent Resolve, the mission to degrade and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. Daily airstrikes have destroyed ISIL oil facilities, weaponry and staging areas in both Iraq and Syria. Other targeted strikes have killed numerous ISIL leaders, and aided Iraqi and Kurdish ground offensives. Defense Secretary Ash Carter outlined the U.S. strategy to Congress in October.
- Force of the Future
When Defense Secretary Ash Carter took office Feb. 17, he identified one of his top priorities: building the “force of the future.” In March, during his first domestic trip as secretary, he spoke to students at his high school alma mater, outlining ideas to attract and retain the nation’s brightest men and women to the military. In April, he ordered a review of the department’s personnel systems to develop proposals for reforms. Carter announced the initial reforms in a Nov. 18 speech including enhancements to the department’s internship programs, designating a chief recruiting officer and modernizing the retirement system for service members.
- Asia-Pacific Rebalance
Defense Secretary Ash Carter made three trips to the Asia-Pacific region in his first eight months in office. Carter’s frequent visits signified the overall importance of the U.S. military’s rebalance to a region he predicts will be the center of the world’s economy.
- Multiyear Budget Deal
The Defense Department dealt with budget uncertainty for most of 2015, marking a fourth year of facing the impacts of sequestration. In February, President Barack Obama sent Congress a base budget request of $534.3 billion for fiscal 2016, plus $51 billion in overseas contingency funds. The request was $36 billion above fiscal 2016 sequestration caps, which defense and service leaders argued was necessary to maintain readiness amid numerous security challenges around the globe and in cyberspace. In late October, following weeks of negotiations, Congress and the White House agreed on two years of funding. The total included about $580 billion for 2016, an amount defense leaders said would provide stability and help strike a balance between needs and resources.
- European Security
Russia’s destabilizing actions in Ukraine and Syria remain one of the dominant concerns for U.S. defense leaders going into 2016. The United States responded this year, conducting numerous military exercises with its NATO allies across Europe as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve. Trident Juncture, NATO’s largest military exercise in more than a decade, involved more than 36, 000 troops and 30 nations. In his most recent trip to Europe, Defense Secretary Ash Carter met with U.S. troops and his counterparts in Spain, Italy and England. He also attended NATO’s meeting for defense ministers in Brussels where alliance leaders discussed Russian aggression, Afghanistan and the threat to NATO’s southern flank. Carter said the Defense Department was adjusting its presence to help make NATO forces more agile, mobile and responsive.
- Tech Outreach
Pushing the high-tech envelope became a top Defense Department goal in 2015. In an April trip to Silicon Valley, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the creation of Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental, or DIUx, to scout breakthrough technologies in the region and build relationships with innovators.
- Afghanistan Mission
In October, President Barack Obama reinforced America’s commitment to peace and stability in Afghanistan, announcing the United States would maintain its current level of 9,800 troops in in the country through most of 2016. The president said the United States would stay focused on two critical missions: training Afghan forces and supporting counterterrorist operations against the remnants of al-Qaida.
- Women in Service
Defense Secretary Ash Carter contends that maintaining the world’s finest fighting force requires recruiting from the broadest possible pool of talent. In December, he announced that all military occupations and positions would be open to women beginning in January 2016, with no exceptions. This historic announcement came after three years of study. It means women will be eligible for an additional 220,000 jobs and the promotions that come with them.
- Welcoming New Chiefs
Ash Carter took office as the 25th defense secretary Feb. 17, bringing more than three decades of Pentagon experience with him. In a message to Defense Department personnel his first day on the job, Carter identified three top priorities: helping the president make and implement the best national security decisions, ensuring the strength and health of service members and civilians, and building the force of the future.
- DoD Disaster Response
A massive earthquake in Nepal that killed almost 10,000 people kicked the Defense Department’s disaster relief response into high gear in April. The department launched Operation Sahayogi Haat, which means “helping hand.” Hundreds of U.S military personnel delivered more than 120 tons of humanitarian aid to displaced Nepalese citizens. Closer to home, the National Guard responded to a blizzard that buried parts of the Northeast in January. About 1,000 Guardsmen battled wildfires in five Western states in August, and at least 1,000 Guardsmen responded to historic flooding in South Carolina in October.