For military spending to counter China, PDI tells only a small part of the story

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The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group transits the Pacific Ocean on January 25, 2020. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason Isaacs)

In recent years, the Pentagon has released a kitty, known as the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, to highlight key projects needed to counter China in the region. But in the editorial below, AEI’s Elaine McCusker argues that at best the PDI paints an incomplete picture of China-related spending and warns that it could mislead lawmakers and the public.

As the Department of Defense prepares to release its detailed budget justifications for fiscal year 2023, including additional program descriptions for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI), policymakers will want to know what is included to resist to the Chinese threat and, above all, is it enough? The short answer: Defense investment to counter China is much broader than the PDI, an incomplete measure at best.

No one doubts the importance of deterrence and military capability to counter China. There is a need for an aggressive stance in the Pacific and for lawmakers and taxpayers to hold the Department of Defense accountable for this action. And while the monitoring tools are important for the direction and accountability they instil, the PDI falls short of its purpose and misleads policymakers and US partners about America’s overall investment. [PDF] in Pacific deterrence and in what is being done to confront China as a key strategic competitor and pacing challenge.

To fully identify gaps or inform necessary discussions and decisions regarding the China challenge, the IDP should be abandoned for a more comprehensive and in-depth assessment of Defense investments, including plans for future programs.

The PDI was created by Congress in the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act [PDF] to reassure partners and prioritize activities in the Indo-Pacific region. Tax legislation 2022 [PDF] demands that the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), submit an independent assessment of activities planned and funded to maintain or restore U.S. comparative military advantage over China .

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This year’s PDI assessment, delivered at the end of March and titled “Seize the Initiative,” is classified. The unclassified summary, which is difficult to assess due to the lack of detail on cost estimates and credits requested, says the cost of China’s deterrence in the Pacific has nearly doubled to $9 billion from the previous one. $4.7 billion estimate from last year by INDOPACOM. Additionally, the cost of the IDP would nearly triple over the next five years, from the $22.7 billion projected in March 2021 to the $67 billion indicated in the new estimate.

Although INDOPACOM requested $9 billion for the IDP, the defense budget submission for fiscal year 2023 requests $6.1 billion. Even if it were to contain the $9 billion, it would still be a very small portion of the overall defense budget – just 1.2% by the report’s own calculations. To put this into perspective, what the Department of Defense spends on the operation of just three of its defense agencies is greater than the amount of the entire PDI request.

The assessment divides needs into six categories, the largest of which accounts for nearly 78% of total IDPs in fiscal year 2023 and would “modernize and augment presence” to “enhance the combat lethality and credibility of the Joint Force West of the International Date”. Double.” Substantial investments would be made in capabilities that fully integrate joint force communications and firepower.

We will have to see the details of the PDI appropriations and programs when the Department releases detailed budget justifications, but it seems safe to say that the initiative does not begin to capture the actual level of Departmental investment in development-oriented activities. challenge from China.

The Department’s budget request for fiscal year 2023 includes hundreds of billions dedicated to this area that are not included in the IDP. For example:

  • The addition of a few key procurement programs – Virginia-class submarines ($7.3 billion), Arleigh Burke-class destroyers ($5.6 billion) and anti-ship missiles to long range ($0.5 billion) – brings in more than $13 billion for the Chinese challenge.
  • Assuming much of the Department’s science and technology efforts are focused on restoring U.S. competitiveness against China through military capability – including hypersonics, microelectronics, 5G, and artificial intelligence – adds another $16.5 billion.
  • You could say that nuclear modernization ($34.4 billion), space ($27.6 billion) and cyber ($11.2 billion) are at least partially aimed at deterring China.
  • There are more investments in military readiness, operations and construction that are difficult to quantify specifically, but also focus on key China-related strategic priorities. For example, a portion of the $134.7 billion in readiness funding will go toward flight and steam hours to prepare the force for integrated operations like those needed to deter China.

So what message is actually sent with the PDI request? And why is this problematic? Artificial budget initiatives such as the PDI that only separate out elements of an overall effort are not a true signal of investment levels or priorities. Nor are they meaningful for evaluating progress or making decisions.

Instead of consolidating departmental budgets into initiatives such as PDI, Congress should view the entire defense budget in this context and, if necessary, consider asking DOD for a full budget exposure for all capabilities devoted to this effort. This would bring transparency to policymakers by allowing them to clearly assess what the budget has in store to counter the growing threat from China.

Elaine McCusker is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and former Acting Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller).

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