Defense leaders in the Biden administration are warning against cutting the Pentagon’s annual budget and saying it would jeopardize military readiness and U.S. national security.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin pitched the White House’s $842 billion defense budget during a Thursday House Appropriations subcommittee hearing, saying the defense budget is expensive, but not as expensive as war and “this budget prevents war.”
“We would have to cut a significant amount of programs,” said Milley to the committee, while specifically increasing shipbuilding and artillery production.
“The other thing that would be cut is readiness,” continued Milley. “Our training would be reduced significantly…all of those things would come down, all your readiness levels, everything that has been achieved [in the last decade] would start going in the opposite direction.”
Pentagon leaders maintained the U.S. military must maintain readiness for a possible confrontation with China and pushed Congress to approve the Defense Department’s proposed $842 billion budget, which would be used to modernize the U.S. fighting force in Asia and around the globe.
“This is a strategy-driven budget — and one driven by the seriousness of our strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China,” said Austin in the hearing.
Pointing to new technology increases, including hypersonics, Austin said the proposed budget’s spending of more than $9 billion, which is a 40% increase over last year, is needed to defend allies and bolster military capabilities in the Pacific.
Testimony follows the Chinese leader’s recent Moscow visit
The testimony came after Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Moscow, which raised concerns that China will increase its support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine and escalate its threats to the West.
According to Milley, China’s actions “are moving it down the path toward confrontation and potential conflict with its neighbors and possibly the United States.”
He said preparing for and deterring war “is extraordinarily expensive, but it’s not as expensive as fighting a war. And this budget prevents war and prepares us to fight it if necessary.”
GOP Representative Hal Rogers of Kentucky pressed the defense leaders on Putin’s meeting with Xi and its impact on the U.S. competition with China, which he called “the elephant in the room.” The United States is “at a crucial moment here.”
Milley, who is set to retire later in the year, said the Department of Defense must continue modernizing its forces to ensure they are ready to fight if needed.
“It is incumbent upon us to make sure we remain No. 1 at all times” to continue to be able to deter China, said Milley.
Two decades of war in Afghanistan and Iraq have eroded troop readiness and the military’s equipment. The United States has continued to work on replacing weapons systems and giving troops time to reset. Milley told Congress the efforts are paying off, but more needs to be done.
“Our operational readiness rates are higher now than they have been in many, many years,” said Milley.
According to General Milley, more than 60% of the active forces are at the highest readiness state right now and could deploy for combat in fewer than 30 days, while 10% can deploy within 96 hours.
Milley warned that the gains would be lost if Congress did not pass a budget on time because it would affect training immediately.
Members of the panel, including Republican Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, made it clear that while the ongoing American support of assistance for Ukraine has their support, “the days of blank checks are over.” They questioned the Biden administration’s ultimate goal in Ukraine.
Gen. Milley maintained the intent to ensure Ukraine remains an independent and free country with its territory intact, maintaining world order and global security that has existed since World War II.
“If that goes out the window,” said Milley, “we’ll be doubling our defense budgets at the point because that will introduce not an era of great power competition, that will begin an era of great power conflict. And that will be extraordinarily dangerous for the whole world.”
The hearing in front of Congress will likely be one of the last for Milley. After a four-year term as chairman, which caps his 43-year military career, he will retire in October.
While several members of the House thanked Milley for his years of service, some took the opportunity to press him about the loss of 13 service members to a suicide bomber during the chaotic U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan.