With Defense Secretary Robert Gates making his final rounds and Secretary of Defense nominee Leon Panetta headed to his Senate hearing tomorrow, the obvious question is how Panetta will face the defense issues at hand.

The Defense Department is rife with challenges, including rampant defense spending cuts in the name of fiscal responsibility and lack of proper modernization. End-strength reductions for the Army and Marines and talk of leaving Afghanistan echo in the halls of both the Pentagon and the Capitol. Panetta’s answers to these challenges will be important for Members of Congress and the American taxpayer. Defending Defense, A joint project of American Enterprise Institute, Foreign Policy Initiative, and The Heritage Foundation, recently released a list of 10 important questions that would be helpful in determining Panetta’s priorities.

Much of the equipment our military flies, sails and drives is already 20 to 60 years old and is wearing out at wartime rates. Aging equipment and lack of modernization need to be addressed. Defending Defense also poses critical questions regarding cuts to the budget and end-strength numbers, as well as the rising threats to national security, such as China’s development and testing of increasingly capable stealth aircraft, like the J–20, and Russia’s development of resilient air defense systems.

America’s military is increasingly being called upon to do more with less. The next Secretary of Defense will have to address the discrepancy between the tools we are giving the military and the missions they’ve been asked to carry out. Congress would do well to find out the answers to these questions before, not after, Panetta is chosen to lead the Defense Department.