The Biden administration’s fiscal 2022 budget request for defense accepts too much near-term risk in exchange for funding long-term needs, witnesses told members of the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
Under-resourcing current national security demands could fail to deter regional ambitions of China and Russia and invite a conflict that the United States is ill-equipped to handle, the experts warned.
Pentagon leaders, including Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, have described the Pentagon’s $715 billion fiscal 2022 budget request as biased toward the future, noted Stacie Pettyjohn, director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security.
Within the budget request are indications that the new administration’s national defense strategy, which is under development, might not sufficiently prioritize deterring great power aggression, which requires developing a military capable of defeating a conventional attack and strengthening strategic stability, she said.
“Absent significant changes to the current U.S. force structure, considerable investments in emerging technologies and the development of new operating concepts, the U.S. military could lose a war against a great power like China or Russia,” said Pettyjohn, a specialist in defense strategy and wargaming.
Pettyjohn advocated developing weapons, such as long-range fires missiles, that could make existing assets like ships and planes more effective at countering Chinese and Russian advances.“You don’t deter wars by hoping that you have the capability to stop [adversaries], you actually need to have the forces to prevent them from achieving their objectives, what we call deterrence by denial,” she said.
Keeping pace with inflation
Roger Zakheim, director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, espoused Reagan’s peace-through-strength philosophy and urged members to fund the Pentagon as envisioned in 2018 by the Trump administration’s National Defense Strategy. Its proponents called for 3-to-5 percent annual growth year over year. Once inflation is factored in, President Joe Biden’s budget request represents a cut in actual buying power from the last of President Donald Trump’s budgets, he said, repeating a common criticism from GOP lawmakers.
By retiring aging weapons that still have some functionality — known in the defense world as “legacy systems” — the budget might invite aggression from China in Taiwan or Russia in the Baltic states, said Zakheim, a former deputy staff director and general counsel for the House Armed Services Committee who also served on the National Defense Strategy Commission, a panel of experts created by Congress that reviewed and endorsed the 2018 plan.
“We’re exposing ourselves too much in the short term,” Zakheim said.