PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Republican Donald Trump vowed Wednesday to boost defense spending and deploy more active troops, fighter planes, Navy ships and submarines as he works to convince skeptics in both parties that he's ready to lead the world's most powerful military.
The New York businessman, who has struggled at times to demonstrate a command of foreign policy, also seemed to acknowledge he does not currently have a plan to address cyber security or the Islamic State group.
If elected, Trump said he would give military leaders 30 days to formulate a plan to defeat the group, commonly known as ISIS. He also said he would ask the joint chiefs of staff to conduct a review of the nation's cyber defenses to determine all vulnerabilities.
Trump's address came hours before his national security acumen is tested at a "commander in chief" forum on NBC.
"We want to deter, avoid and prevent conflict through our unquestioned military strength," Trump declared of his Democratic opponent in his Wednesday speech, delivered inside the exclusive Union League of Philadelphia, which first allowed women in 1986.
The appearances mark an intense, two-day focus on national security by Trump, who has offered tough rhetoric — but few details — on America's challenges abroad.
Trump's rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, has tried to paint the billionaire businessman as erratic, making the case that his disposition would be a major liability on the world stage.
"They know they can count on me to be the kind of commander in chief who will protect our country and our troops, and they know they cannot count on Donald Trump," Clinton said Tuesday. "They view him as a danger and a risk."
Trump's team has worked aggressively in recent days to turn deflect such criticism back at Clinton.
"She's trigger-happy and very unstable," Trump said of his Democratic opponent, calling her use of a private email server while secretary of state "reckless."
While Clinton and Trump will be featured at the Wednesday night forum, they will appear at separate times and will not face each other on stage. The forum could serve as a warm-up to their highly anticipated first presidential debate, scheduled for Sept. 26 in New York.
Trump's Union League address also included his plans to eliminate deep spending cuts, known as the "sequester," enacted when Congress failed to reach a budget compromise in 2011. Republicans and Democrats voted for the automatic, across-the board cuts that affected both military and domestic programs.
Military leaders have said that they can live with an active duty Army of 490,000 — bolstered by nearly 500,000 soldiers in the National Guard and Reserves — as long as Congress provides enough funding to support that troop level. Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, said last month that he is comfortable with a 1 million-soldier Army, and would welcome a larger force, only if Congress provides the money to maintain troop readiness.
Increasing the size without increase other support, he said, will decrease readiness and hollow out the force.
As for how he would pay for it, Trump insisted on Wednesday that he would fully offset the costs of his new spending through savings and new revenue. He said he would make the government "leaner," in part by using attrition to shrink the workforce, and said he'd bring in new money by asking countries like Germany, Japan and Saudi Arabia to pay more for the security the U.S. provides them.
Even before promising a huge boost in military spending, Trump's plans to cut taxes, expand infrastructure spending and leave untouched entitlement programs such as Social Security already threatened to add trillions of dollars to the federal deficit.
Trying to emphasize his military support, Trump's campaign released a letter on Tuesday from 88 retired generals and admirals citing an urgent need for a "course correction" in America's national security policy. It was aimed at rebutting Clinton's arguments that she would be best positioned to lead the military and reassuring Republicans who have openly worried that his provocative statements might undermine U.S. alliances.
Trump's proposal to lift the sequester limits on military spending won praise from Republicans on Capitol Hill even as some acknowledged the reality that Democratic opposition might render it difficult to achieve.
"Obviously it's not something that would get through this Congress, so that's something we'd have to look at the election next year. But I agree with him in terms of lifting the sequester on defense, he's absolutely correct about that," said GOP. Rep Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a high-level member of the Appropriations Committee.
But questions remain, even in his party.
Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, repeatedly refused to say directly whether he had confidence in Trump as commander in chief when questioned on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Wednesday.
"I do believe that Donald Trump is growing in his understanding of these issues and I think that he's beginning to get more and more people around him that have a depth of understanding as to the complexities and I'm watching this evolve," he said.