On Thursday, June 17, the Senate Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense held a hearing to review the Department of Defense (DOD) fiscal year 2022 budget request. The purpose of the hearing was to establish a record for the investments and considerations made by the DOD for FY22 and potential obstacles to adequate implementation. Defense Secretary Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff defended the adequacy of the budget request and outlined the Department’s priorities. Members discussed various aspects of the FY22 budget as it concerned domestic industries, modernization efforts, global partnerships, and long-term strategic competition with China. There was a consensus primarily on the status of military strategic competition with China and concern regarding the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Members in Attendance
Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), Sen. Mike Braun (R-ID).
Strategic Competition with China and Russia
Long-term strategic competition with China was addressed in relation to the defense of Taiwan, additional competition concerns regarding Russia, and respective military capabilities of the U.S. Ranking Member Shelby noted that increased Russian military spending presents a considerable concern and stressed the importance of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, saying it meets the challenges posed by long-term strategic competition. In his testimony, Secretary Austin highlighted the Department’s awareness of strategic competition with China through initiatives such as the China Task Force and internal directives that revitalize partnerships and bolster deterrence against China.
Ranking Member Shelby asked Secretary Austin how the ‘flat’ FY22 defense budget adequately reflects the prioritization of strategic competition with China. Secretary Austin said China represents a pacing challenge and that the right capabilities and operational concepts are being established. The Secretary cited modernization efforts in the FY22 budget and said that such funding will grow cybersecurity and space defense capabilities, support the Pacific Defense Initiative (PDI), and generate capabilities that will be focused on China. Gen. Milley characterized defense investments as a broader pivot of the U.S. military in meeting a pacing threat such as China. When asked by Sen. Feinstein about relations in the Indo-Pacific region, Secretary Austin raised the China Task Force’s focus on regional partners and said that progress will be made. Gen. Milley raised the Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) in addition to service branch coordination and said the relationship with China must improve in timeliness and responsive interaction, as it may prevent power conflict in the future. Sen. Graham asked Gen. Milley where China’s military capabilities will lie in the next decade. Gen. Milley said that China announced aspirations to be militarily superior to the U.S. by the midcentury and that it is incumbent upon the U.S. to maintain military overmatch relative to China to deter Chinese military superiority.
Sen. Hoeven asked Secretary Austin if the Nuclear Posture Review will be completed prior to the FY23 budget request and whether the Secretary could commit to the FY22 budget meeting potential Russian and Chinese nuclear capabilities. Secretary Austin said the review will be completed within the year and that current and emerging threats will be considered during the review. Sen. Hoeven asked whether existing U.S. strategic deterrence will be adequate if the Chinese military continue to grow. Secretary Austin said that the U.S. military will be credible no matter the conditions. Gen. Milley said that the current and future nuclear strategic deterrence is fully adequate, and that deterrence includes communicating with the adversary to understand military capabilities. Gen. Milley expressed confidence in the modernization efforts as they serve deterrence and said the conventional and nuclear piece are both relevant factors in maintaining military overmatch with China and Russia to ensure that competition does not transition to conflict.
Sen. Hoeven asked what actions can be pursued in relation to Taiwan’s defense. Secretary Austin said that the DOD is committed to Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities and cited the Taiwan Relations Act and Three Joint Communiques Assurances as examples of continued U.S. support. Sen. Coons addressed the importance of offsetting Chinese military actions through global partnerships in the South China Sea, Indo-Pacific Region, and Taiwan Strait and asked witnesses how likely a Chinese -Taiwan reunification strategy through force would be implemented and how the FY22 budget support capabilities relevant to deterrence in the Indo-Pacific. Secretary Austin said that uniting Taiwan is a goal for China, though the timeline is not certain. Gen. Milley said that in terms of capabilities, China still has room for improvement and a military reunification is not currently a high priority though it remains a core long-term goal.
The DOD FY22 budget request was discussed by some members in a broader context of domestic conditions. In his opening statement, Chairman Leahy spoke of President Biden’s commitment to public wellbeing and defense and said that Congress should foster bipartisan, bicameral discussions with the White House to agree upon topline issues. Chairman Leahy asked Secretary Austin if he agreed that investments in medical research, environment, education, and agriculture duly support the nation’s defense strategy. Secretary Austin affirmed this view and said that the DOD goal to re-shore capabilities transitioned offshore plays a role in these sectors. Sen. Durbin addressed the nonpartisan objectives of the U.S. military and asked what the DOD is doing to avoid partisanship among service members and departments alike. Secretary Austin and Gen. Milley responded that the military has been apolitical in the past and that this is a perspective that will be maintained.
Sen. Murray expressed concern about in-service discrimination, sexual assault, and extremism. Secretary Austin expressed support for Sen. Murray’s concern and referred to various initiatives, including a service member directive and independent review into sexual assault violations. Secretary Austin said a restoration of confidence in the system is important. Gen. Milley said the military needs to pursue a fundamentally different approach to sexual assault and harassment. In addition, Gen, Milley said substantive change can be expected. Sen. Murray said that military families face issues such as affordable housing, food security, and childcare and asked witnesses to elaborate on DOD addressment of these issues. Secretary Austin noted the pre-existing role of these issues that were compounded by the pandemic and said the FY22 budget includes provisions to address these issues. Sen. Van Hollen asked Secretary Austin to elaborate on the FY22 investment in military medicine and Uniformed Service University (USU). Secretary Austin expressed confidence and support for the military medicine personnel and overall military response. In terms of the FY22 budget, Secretary Austin expressed commitment to resource funds to medical professionals. In response to Sen. Braun’s inquiries on economic conditions and defense spending, Gen. Milley said that an active, well-functioning military should be supported by a robust economy, thus holistic economic strength is important.
The U.S. industrial base and multiyear contract practices were also raised in relation to shipbuilding.
Sen. Collins asked Secretary Austin to elaborate on the decision to cut guided-missile destroyers (DDG) from the multiyear procurement contracts in the FY22 budget and said this reflects a broader trend of neglecting naval capabilities. Secretary Austin said he was committed to resourcing the Navy and that there is a plan to resource DDGs in FY23. Sen. Collins expressed concern about the defense industrial base, especially concerning efficient hotline productions and work conditions that are vulnerable under the FY22 budget. Sen. Tester spoke on the limited number of multiyear contracts and asked Secretary Austin if the DOD has an obligation to fulfill procurement contracts once they are established. Secretary Austin said that the DOD has an obligation to provide the best capabilities to the services, including the ability to honor a multiyear contract and that in the case that does not occur, the DOD is prepared to pay. Sen. Tester scrutinized the DOD’s unfulfillment of multiyear contracts and raised the Navy proposal to break a multiyear contract. On the domestic industrial base, Sen. Baldwin questioned how U.S. capabilities and defense acquisition system compared to that of China’s and asked the Secretary how the Biden Administration’s ‘Made in America’ initiatives can be leveraged. Secretary Austin said that the FY22 budget request includes investments in U.S. industries to strengthen the supply chain.
Sen. Murkowski raised the issue of mineral security and supply-chain risks in the public and private sector and asked about the consequences of relying on offshore sources for critical minerals. Secretary Austin cited the FY22 budget investment towards partnerships with U.S. companies to establish domestic capabilities for rare earth elements and acknowledged the importance of secure supply-chains. Sen. Blunt raised the lack of nickel and lithium production in the U.S. in relation to strategic competition with China and supply-chain security. Secretary Austin said that DOD agrees with Sen. Blunt’s concern and reiterated the FY22 budget investment in partnering with U.S. companies.
Chairman Leahy noted the events of January 6 and asked what would happen if Congress did not pass a supplemental appropriations bill reimbursing the National Guard. Secretary Austin said this would impact the National Guard’s ability to train and provide sources for current members and highlighted the instrumental role of the National Guard in Covid-19 vaccination efforts and natural disaster relief. Chairman Leahy asked Gen. Milley what consequences the DOD faces in using a continuing resolution (CR) and stopgap funding. Gen. Milley said the use of a CR would have a significant negative impact and impair the DOD ability to train and provide resource to service members. Sen. Tester spoke on the FY22 budget in relation to the divestment of legacy programs. Sen. Tester asked witnesses if the National Guard is being disproportionately impacted by divestment of legacy capabilities. Secretary Austin said that in terms of systems, the DOD seeks to ensure that the National Guard is properly equipped with modernized equipment, so retiring dated systems do not necessarily present a burden upon service members. Sen. Tester asked Gen. Milley to elaborate on the impact of divestment on the National Guard. Gen. Milley said that it is important the military pivot for future needs, thus, investment in emerging technologies is vital to keeping pace with future demands.
There was consensus surrounding the importance of DOD modernization in meeting current and future strategic threats. In his testimony, Secretary Austin said that the budget request is informed by the interim National Security Guidance and allocates the necessary capabilities, citing hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence, 5G technology, nuclear modernization, and shipbuilding. Chairman Leahy asked Secretary Austin how the DOD is investing in microelectronic technology. Secretary Austin responded that the microelectronic budget is aimed at boosting domestic production of key electronic elements necessary for future development. When asked by Ranking Member Shelby how the FY22 budget accounts for modernization goals, Secretary Austin highlighted the investments to missile defense and defeat, long range fires, lethal air force, effective naval force, ground forces, and investments in modernization of the Nuclear Triad. Ranking Member Shelby also asked whether the FY22 budget adequately funds hypersonic weapons. Secretary Austin stressed the importance of such capabilities and said that the FY22 budget provides flexibility to meet the relevant, dominant needs. Sen. Durbin asked witnesses what they would identify as wasteful in the FY22 budget. Secretary Austin said a challenge is investing in future capabilities while divesting legacy capabilities and asked for Congress’s support to divest from dated programs. Sen. Durbin said the procurement process is a crucial issue.
Sen. Graham asked if the DOD has a definition for what constitutes a cyberattack and Secretary Austin said there is not a specific definition. Sen. Graham expressed a desire to define a cyberattack and navigate response protocols. Sen. Durbin expressed concern on the FY22 budget in relation to the Colonial Pipeline crisis. In response, Secretary Austin said that the military can protect DOD networks, adding to overall government cybersecurity efforts. Sen. Baldwin asked Secretary Austin to elaborate on the FY22 budget topline request. Secretary Austin responded that the topline request has been informed by the interim National Security Defense Strategy and that it provides the flexibility to pursue relevant capabilities in any competition with great powers. Secretary Austin cited investment in sectors such as long-range fires, lethal air force, combat-effective naval forces, combat-effective ground forces, as well as investments in cybersecurity. Sen. Murphy raised the prevalence of misinformation and the DOD’s management of cyber operations and asked if a timely response to information warfare can be balanced with respect to ensuring the Department of State’s (DOS) lead role. Secretary Austin agreed that the DOS should be the lead actor in combatting misinformation.
Global Adversaries and Allies
In his opening statement, Secretary Austin said the FY22 budget addresses climate change, future pandemics, and Russian cyber aggression. With more sophisticated capabilities, the budget will counter ballistic missile capabilities of Iran and North Korea and fund counterterrorism efforts in the Middle East and South Asia, including terrorist networks in Africa maintain global posture. Sen. Blunt asked Secretary Austin to comment on the impact of funding ballistic military capabilities of Guam through INDOPACOM. Secretary Austin said it is an investment to develop military defense capabilities in Guam and that the INDOPACOM request for military ballistic defense, while not wholly met, is in part represented by the FY22 budget. Sen. Blunt asked Gen. Milley how the U.S. is supporting Indo-Pacific allies such as Australia. Gen. Milley said that routine military exercises at the unit bases are being pursued across all service branches in coordination with Australia. Secretary Austin also cited his discussions with Japanese, Korean, and Indian partners on cooperation.
Retrograde Afghanistan operations were raised in relation to the funding of appropriate military operations, protecting vulnerable populations, and avoiding extremist development. Sen. Tester acknowledged the political contention surrounding the FY22 defense budget and expressed a desire to explore the financial impact of withdrawal from Afghanistan. In his opening statement, Secretary Austin referred to the bilateral relationship with Afghan partners and ongoing efforts to maintain the U.S. military footprint. Sen. Collins asked Gen. Milley about the imposition of Sharia law under the Taliban in Afghanistan. Gen. Milley affirmed this concern and said that the range of probable outcomes are being assessed by the DOD. Gen. Milley said that the current Afghan government forces are adequate and future outcomes are being assessed with coordination of the government, proper funding of forces, and protection of the U.S. embassy. On the issue of women's rights, Sen. Shaheen asked Gen. Milley if the U.S. military is working with international partners to protect vulnerable populations. Gen. Milley said that the military is ensuring the safety of vulnerable peoples. Gen. Milley said that the limited U.S. presence does limit response capabilities. Sen. Shaheen asked Gen. Milley for an update on withdrawal plans in relation to the safety of Afghan civilians as well. Gen. Milley said the DOS is the lead agency to address visa immigrant programs and evacuation protocols and that the military can complete whatever requests are made. Sen. Graham asked witnesses to comment on the likelihood of terrorist organizations forming in the region. Secretary Austin characterized the threat-level as ‘medium’ and added that it would take roughly two years to develop that capability. Gen. Milley concurred with Secretary Austin’s assessment.
Sen. Graham mentioned the intelligence assessment on Iranian nuclear weapon development. Secretary Austin acknowledged that assessment and Gen. Milley said that while a national-level decision to procure nuclear weapons has not been made, the threat remains. Sen. Graham stressed the importance of preventing such an outcome. Ranking Member Shelby and Sen. Hoeven addressed the Israel Iron Dome Defense system. Ranking Member Shelby and Sen. Hoeven asked Gen. Milley whether he supported replenishing Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. Gen. Milley responded that it is a policy question. Secretary Austin said that the DOD remains committed to the defense of Israel.
Sen. Murkowski scrutinized the implementation of service-level strategy and resources in the Arctic region. She asked the Secretary whether he believed the FY22 budget had adequate funding for Arctic strategies. Secretary Austin said that requirements in the Arctic are reflected in the new National Defense Strategy and that capabilities must be better resourced in the future. Sen. Hoeven asked Gen. Milley if the FY22 budget request provides adequate tools to compete in the Arctic given the increased footprint of Russia and China. Gen. Milley said he is confident in military capabilities and that increased competition is being met by the FY22 budget, however an increase in funds and resources should be made in the future. Sen. Shaheen asked Gen. Milley if the U.S. would be in a better position to protect the Arctic, South China Sea, and other oceans if the U.S. were a member of the Law of the Sea Treaty. Gen. Milley said that it is a good idea to support the Law of the Sea Treaty. Sen. Van Hollen raised the New START Treaty and asked witnesses whether they agreed that the extension of the New START serves the interest of the U.S. Gen. Milley said that he agreed with the extension and ongoing arms control efforts.
On containing extremism in the Middle East, Sen. Coons asked witnesses how they view the DOD’s role in responding to extremist groups. Gen. Milley said the DOD priority continues to be defending the U.S. through allies in the region, trained missions, intelligence, and financial aid. Sen. Murphy addressed the number of U.S. military bases in the region and asked witnesses if the U.S. should reconsider basing levels with an updated National Defense Strategy. Secretary Austin said the Middle East is important now and going forward. The Secretary added that a current Force Posture Review is underway as well as the National Defense Strategy and as such it is important to look at current position of the U.S. Gen. Milley said that a holistic Force Posture Review for the Middle East is a valid initiative being pursued.