America’s defense leaders have a problem: What they say doesn’t match what they do. The mismatch is apparent in the latest Pentagon budget, and a “dire-do” gap undermines the confidence of Congress and the American people.
Military leaders identify China as our # 1 challenge, often calling Beijing an “increasingly capable strategic competitor,” as Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley has warned, or a threat of “stimulus.” . Yet the demand for the budget reduces the ability of the Navy and Air Force – services that would have disproportionate roles in any conflict in the Western Pacific – to respond to threats in that region. Meanwhile, the budget promises undeveloped weapons that could take decades to enter the fleet, funded by a “divest-to-invest” strategy.
The Navy wants to withdraw 15 ships, including seven guided missile cruisers and four littoral combat ships, while procuring only two surface combatants and two submarines. (The Congressional budget proposal would buy another destroyer and limit withdrawals.) Naval aviation purchases have fallen 15.6% from 2021, even as the Navy accelerates F / A-18 withdrawals. The USS Ronald Reagan, based in Japan to counter a Chinese threat, is overseeing the withdrawal from Afghanistan in the Middle East as no other aircraft carriers are available. Meanwhile, China is building warships at an astonishing rate. In 2010, the US Navy had 68 more ships than the Chinese Navy. Today, it has 63 less, a swing of 131 ships in 10 years.
The Air Force is also following the Pentagon’s “divest to invest” example. The purchase of fighter jets is down 22% from 2021. The force wants to withdraw 137 jets, more than double the number it plans to buy. After the withdrawal of 17 B-1s last year, the Air Force’s bomber inventory is at a level senior officers call the bare minimum. Ammo supply is down by over 40%. In recent years, China has focused on purchasing advanced aircraft and has the third largest air force in the world. In addition, China has a large force of conventional missiles on the ground, including the DF-26, known as the “carrier killer”, capable of hitting Guam.
The defense budget tells the American people and their allies that while we say China is a threat, we are taking no action to respond. Take General Milley’s June 17 assessment of the threat of China invading Taiwan: “I think the likelihood is probably low, in the immediate, in the short term.