What the DoD is Highlighting in the Congressional Budget Hearings

Following the initial reveal of Biden’s proposed $715 billion FY2022 defense budget, congressional hearings quickly got underway. On 8 June, the Senate Armed Services Committee presided over a hearing concerning competition with China as well as the Navy and Marine Corps investment programs under the FY2022 defense authorization request. Additional hearings have since been conducted and remain scheduled for both the House and the Senate. Already, these hearings have led to hours of video and hundreds of pages of documentation but it is worth considering what the Department of Defense (DoD) has chosen to highlight in its own official coverage of the hearings.

Minuteman III ICBM launching (U.S. Air Force photo by Vandenberg Air Force Base Public Affairs)

In a 11 June news release, the Department of Defense focused on the importance of nuclear modernization which has recently evolved to become a DoD priority. As usual, the department highlighted the extensive progress of Chinese and Russian modernization efforts as well as the persisting threat emanating from North Korea and Iran. Somewhat unusually for nuclear policy, however, the importance of integrating allied viewpoints in reviewing American nuclear posture was a key point.

According to Acting Secretary of Defense Melissa Dalton:

“Consultation with allies will be a core component of this [the upcoming nuclear] review, and we have begun engaging with allies to ensure that their views are heard and understood before reaching any conclusions.”

Two more general articles were released by the DoD a day earlier covering testimony by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley. In these articles, the Department of Defense highlighted that the budget is expected to sufficiently cover research and development in fields such as cyber and hypersonic missiles.

Ultimately, the budget was described as allowing the US to “keep pace with China” with General Milley noting that in terms of purchasing power, Russia and China outspend the US on defense ($200 billion + $600 billion PPP). The DoD stated moreover that the new budget would allow the US to counter China while leaving the flexibility to deal with other threats such as the DPRK, Iran and terrorism. The Afghanistan withdrawal and sexual assault were also given some consideration.

According to Secretary Austin:

“I’m also confident that this budget will help us maintain the integrated deterrent capability and global posture necessary to back up the hard work of our diplomats and demonstrate our resolve and leadership all over the world, alongside our allies and partners,”

The general takeaway from the Department’s messaging is that the DoD is continuing to prioritize modernization vis a vis China with nuclear and cyber capabilities remaining at the forefront. The DoD claims that this modernization will not come at cost of short term readiness however. More than ever, America’s alliance network is overtly being portrayed as the single most important strategic resource the US must maintain. China, modernization, readiness, nuclear and allies seem to be the things the DoD wants to put in the spotlight.