There seems to be a fundamental disconnect between Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s directive identifying China as the “nation’s number one pacing challenge” and President Joe Biden’s Budget (PB) Request for Defense. The PB doesn’t reflect the funding for the commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) Admiral John Aquilino’s priorities.
Aquilino put his critical needs in the “unfunded requirements list.” This document outlines items that were not given Defense Department support after the military services requested them.
When it comes to congressional budget approval, this disparity is confusing. In a recent Defense News article, Jen Judson wrote about USINDOPACOM’s funding needs. Judson explained: “The commander’s No. 1 priority on the list is more money to develop a ballistic missile defense system for Guam, which would require an additional $231.7 million — $77.2 million in procurement funding and $154.45 million in research, development, test and evaluation funding.”
Both Secretary Austin and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on June 10. In his opening testimony, Milley made the point that:
“China is our #1 geostrategic security challenge … China is challenging the peaceful status quo in the Pacific and is intent on revising the global international order by midcentury. China is conducting large-scale exercises in the region with an emphasis on amphibious landing, joint fires, and maritime strike scenarios. These actions threaten our allies and partners’ autonomy, jeopardize freedom of navigation, overflight and other lawful uses of the sea, and compromise regional peace and stability.”
Discussing “Readiness and Modernization” in his written statement, Milley said, “The Joint Force is in a position where modernization is imperative. We must avoid the tyranny of the now at the expense of the future.” The chairman pointed out that the United States has always had the luxury of time to build up forces to meet an emerging enemy before engaging in active combat. That is time that the United States does not have now.
As Liberty Nation described in its report “Biden’s Defense Budget: No Surprise, It’s Flat,” the Defense Department seems to be retiring in this budget cycle “older platforms like four of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships, 42 of the Air Forces A-10 Thunderbolt close air support fighters, 14 KC-10, and 18 KC-135 aerial tankers and others.” Replacement capability is, in many cases, well into the future.
Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), the ranking member of the SASC, pointed out the inconsistencies between what the Defense Department says is essential and the clear lack of support in the budget submission. Joe Gould, writing in Defense News, quotes Inhofe, who challenged Milley and Austin with his concerns:
“This budget cuts ships, aircraft, munitions, and more. We have nearly $25 billion of unfunded priorities. These aren’t ‘wish lists.’ They are ‘risk lists.’ The administration keeps telling us that the Pentagon budget is cut because of ‘fiscal realities,’ but they’re spending trillions of taxpayer dollars on everything else under the sun.”
An April 2021 article in Liberty Nation examined the Biden administration budget funding priorities in the discretionary budget request, noting that the percentage increase for national security was the least of the federal Cabinet-level funding requests. This disconnect was brought up by Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) during the SASC hearing when he asked Austin “to explain to troops the administration’s prioritization of national security, as it was ‘dead last.'”
Formulating the defense budget requires a delicate balance between dealing with the here and now and anticipating future weapons capability needs. The current budget request has raised confusion because the Defense Department has made a compelling case that China and other global threats are “here and now” threats, while Biden’s budget does not support the same compelling sense of immediacy.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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