The Biden administration’s proposed defense budget for FY23 would place the United States in a weakened position in the event of conflict with China, according to one senator, who questioned the Pentagon’s desire to reduce the Navy by more ships than it could replace.
“There’s real risk in relying on capabilities that won’t be ready til the 2030s to deter or defeat a Chinese threat that may materialize in the next five years,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the defense budget on May 3.
Meanwhile, the Department of Defense (DoD) has proposed culling some 24 older ships in the next year, while only ordering nine more, many of which would not be operational until the 2030s. It is a strategy for military development that Collins said went against the advice of multiple studies on readiness from across presidential administrations.
“Given the aggressive rate at which China is modernizing its military, and the fact that everywhere we look we see new threats, including the largest land war in Europe since World War Two, I’m very concerned that this budget would result in real cuts in defense spending at exactly the wrong time,” Collins said.
The Pentagon’s suggestion to cut its naval and air forces has been heavily criticized by lawmakers, as has been the DoD’s failure to account for inflation in its proposed budget.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) recently lambasted the decision to effectively reduce the defense budget by not keeping up with record inflation rates. The Pentagon’s proposed budget for FY23 currently accounts for a 2.2 percent inflation rate, though the real rate of inflation is hovering around 8.5 percent.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, however, said during the heading that though the United States would have less ships, it would be able to rely on the forces of its allies and partners throughout the world, especially in the Pacific, in the event of war with China.
“It’s true quantity is a quality all its own, but we have allies and partners and China doesn’t,” Milley said. “The Japanese Navy, the Australian Navy, the other allies and partners that would probably work with the United States if we exercise routinely with them, that would make a significant difference.”
“Sure, it would always be nice to have more ships. But the fact of the matter is the most important thing is to have the ships that we do have, and … have them with the manning and training and equipping [to] have them in a very significant readiness status.”
To that end, Milley said that, though the United States was “fundamentally a maritime nation,” it did not need to maintain a fleet the size of China’s.
“Neither China nor Russia have anything close to the allies and partner network that the United States has,” Milley said.
China maintains the world’s largest Navy with more than 360 ships, and is estimated to have command of some additional 200 to 300 maritime militia vessels. The United States, meanwhile, has a fleet of 297, which the new budget would reduce to 273 before the addition of new vessels in the next decade.
The issue of naval dominance has come front and center amid growing tensions surrounding the CCP’s ambition to unite Taiwan with the mainland, by force if necessary.
The Chinese communist regime claims that Taiwan is a breakaway province of China, though Taiwan has been self-governed since 1949 and has never been controlled by the CCP.
Milley confirmed that the CCP had set a 2027 target for forcing unification with Taiwan, but questioned the ability of the Chinese military, which has not fought a war since 1979, to achieve that goal even in the event that it launched an invasion.
“It is true that President Xi has set an objective to have his military prepared capability-wise, that’s not the same as to say he’s actually going to go and invade, but to have capability to seize the island of Taiwan,” Milley said. “That is a very tall order, and it remains to be seen that the Chinese will actually be able to execute that.”