Republicans did not even need to see the hard numbers to outright reject President Joe Biden’s proposed $715 billion defense budget despite record technology investments intended to confront China.
The fiscal year 2022 defense budget reflects an $11 billion increase over the enacted amount. Still, it falls 0.4% short of inflation and does not provide the 3%-5% annual increase called for by GOP lawmakers and hawkish security experts. They claim the “flat” request will prevent Pentagon officials from sustaining the force amid rising global challenges. Liberal Democrats have voiced their intent to find more areas to cut inside the yearly defense budget when it reaches the Capitol, though new investments in military housing, raises for military and civilian employees, and more than $600 million to help the Department of Defense combat climate change may curry even the progressives’ favor, experts say.
“President Biden’s defense budget request is wholly inadequate,” said Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member James Inhofe and House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mike Rogers in a joint statement.
“It does not adequately resource the 2018 National Defense Strategy, forcing impossible choices between readiness and modernization upon commanders and troops,” they added, referring to the blueprint that called on the Pentagon to realign to confront great power competition with China and Russia.
The two Republicans also slammed the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, a $5.1 billion program to enhance the military capabilities of Pacific partners as a deterrent to Chinese aggression. PDI would finance defense hardware and military construction investments, in addition to bankrolling joint exercises with the nations U.S. experts contend China frequently bullies economically or militarily.
They slammed the administration’s request for the program despite a proposed increase of $400 million over the amount requested by Indo-Pacific Command.
“The whole department is kind of shifting its focus on China, and therefore, by extension, the Pacific,” Vice Admiral Ronald Boxall, director of force structure, resources, and assessment for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Friday.
But conservatives disagreed.
“Military leaders repeatedly warned that the U.S. cannot defend against the growing aggression of adversaries like China without adequate defense funding,” said Ohio Rep. Mike Turner, ranking member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces.
Inhofe and Rogers piled on: “A budget like this sends China and our other potential adversaries a bad signal — that we’re not willing to do what it takes to defend ourselves and our allies and partners.”
Deputy Defense Secretary Hicks stressed that China was front and center in the defense budget development.
“To defend the nation, the department in this budget takes a clear-eyed approach to Beijing and provides the investments to prioritize China as our pacing challenge,” she said.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley told members of the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday investments would include a record-level amount on research and development.
“It funds the right mix of capabilities that we need most to defend this nation now and in the future,” Austin said.
Austin and Milley identified new money to develop micro-technology, artificial intelligence, hypersonics, 5G, and cyber resilience to counter China.
Winners and loser
The budget also reflects an increase of $4 billion in the Navy’s budget and another $8.8 billion in the Air Force budget but will still leave the U.S. behind China in ship numbers.
The new funding will be used to buy eight battleships. China has dozens of more ships than the U.S., though security experts assure the U.S. still retains a qualitative edge. China, however, is building ships at double the country’s pace.
The budget also plans to buy 85 5th generation F-35 fighter jets, which will help offset the age and technology disparity in the Air Force.
Hicks said the budget also reflects “tough choices.”
Budget officials told Pentagon journalists Friday afternoon that would mean divestments of $2.8 billion achieved mainly by decommissioning four Littoral Combat Ships and 42 A-10 Warthogs, a close combat aircraft vital in the Middle East wars now winding down.
The Army’s budget also takes a slice of $1.6 billion as U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan. However, U.S. funding to the Afghan security forces increased by $300 million to $3.3 billion as the U.S. replaces troops with dollars.
“Given that we are pulling out, we need to provide some additional security support for the forces there,” said DoD comptroller Anne McAndrew.
‘Dead on arrival’
Senate Budget ranking member Lindsay Graham called the president’s budget “dead on arrival — just like all other presidential budgets.”
“It is insanely expensive. It dramatically increases non-defense spending and taxes. Over time it will result in a weakened Department of Defense,” he said in a statement. Republican lawmakers see climate change as one of the non-defense-related ticket items.
Budget briefers said $617 million would help “make climate change a priority” to the Pentagon.
Still, some priorities are likely to quell the concerns of Republican lawmakers.
DOD calls for a $27.7 billion investment to modernize the nuclear triad, including the purchase of Columbia class submarines, invest in the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent to replace 50-year-old Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, and replace the aging B-52 fleet with B-21 bombers.
Biden also wants $20.4 billion invested in missile defense, funding the Next Generation Interceptor, a key defense against rogue nations such as North Korea and Iran.
Confirming what Austin and Milley had previewed the day before, Biden’s defense budget calls for the largest RTD&E investment ever: $112 billion, a 5% increase over fiscal 2021 funding.
Some big-ticket items under the purview include pitches for: $2.3 billion to invest in microelectronics, $874 million in artificial intelligence, and $398 million in 5G technology.
Former President Donald Trump’s pet creation, Space Force, would benefit from proposed technological advances with a $20.6 billion budget, which includes $2.6 billion for Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared satellites to provide space-based missile warnings. Another $1.7 billion will pay for five launch vehicles to deploy more assets into space as China and Russia begin fielding space-based weapons.
The Friday afternoon budget rollout is just the beginning of a battle that will take place on both sides of the Potomac River in the coming months.
“There will be serious discussions about government funding,” Graham predicted. “But the Biden budget isn’t serious, and it won’t be a part of those discussions.”