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May 18, 2023
Notes from the Pentagon

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin outlines Pentagon’s plan to deter war with China

By Bill Gertz
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin this week told Congress how the Pentagon plans to spend hundreds of billions of dollars this year for new weapons and military preparations to deter what he said is the growing danger of war with China.

“Beijing has increased its bullying and provocations in the Indo-Pacific,” Mr. Austin told a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Tuesday. “It’s embarked upon an historic military buildup, including in space and cyberspace. Of course, war is neither imminent nor inevitable, but we must face up to the PRC’s growing assertiveness.”

China is increasingly turning to its military forces to advance what the Pentagon chief called the revisionist aims of its communist system. The Chinese military has sent record numbers of warplanes near Taiwan in provocative flights, fired military-grade lasers against a Philippine vessel, and has carried out risky aerial maneuvers near U.S. and allied aircraft patrolling in the region.

A key part of what the secretary called a “whole of government” approach to countering China is a request for $9.1 billion this year for the Pentagon’s Pacific Deterrence Initiative. The funding request is 40% more than was spent on the program last year and will be used for weapons and infrastructure in the region.

Mr. Austin said the effort must involve both the State Department, through its diplomacy in the region, and the Commerce Department, which helps by preventing U.S. technology from assisting the Chinese military buildup. Regionally, Mr. Austin said a key element of the strategy is working with allies, including helping Australia build nuclear-powered attack submarines and supporting Japan’s buildup of long-range strike missiles.

Mr. Austin said bolstering defenses for Taiwan is also a top priority, amid growing indications that Beijing is planning a military operation against the island democracy in the coming years.

“The United States has a vital national interest in preventing conflict across the Taiwan Strait,” he said, adding that the Pentagon is working to provide greater defense aid and other support, he said.

“Given the growing nature of the [Chinese] threat, this will require a comprehensive, ‘all of the above’ approach,” he said.

New legislative and executive branch authority is being applied to getting weapons to Taiwan faster, including the use of presidential drawdown authority that allows for sending arms from current U.S. stockpiles within days or hours of approval. The Pentagon is also focused on closing “critical gaps” in Taiwan’s military and defense capabilities, Mr. Austin said, without offering details.

President Biden’s Pentagon budget request seeks $170 billion for arms procurement to build warships, submarines and advanced warplanes, and to upgrade ground forces. The White House is also seeking $146 billion to boost readiness for increased ship maintenance, flying hours and other training.

The most immediate need will be spending $30 billion to munitions for expanded weapons production for arms critical for deterring China, including maritime versions of long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles, long-range anti-ship missiles, and multimission SM-6 anti-missile interceptors and strike missiles.

Chinese planners are said to fear the Navy’s four converted nuclear missile submarines. Each of the four Ohio-class missile subs, known as SSGNs, can fire 154 Tomahawk precision-guided missiles that could deliver decimating strikes as part of an opening salvo in a future U.S.-China conflict.

The budget will also focus on investment in integrated air and missile defenses “to sustain our military advantage” over China, Mr. Austin said. Nuclear forces are being modernized with $37.7 billion on new forces, and $11 billion for a mix of both hypersonic and long-range subsonic weapons that can strike from land, air and sea.

“The PRC’s bullying behavior and military buildup pose a historic test — and in the face of it, America has shown extraordinary unity and resolve,” Mr. Austin told lawmakers.

Mr. Austin said the effort to counter China would be severely limited if Congress fails to pass a defense appropriation and instead lumps all federal spending in a continuing resolution.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, testifying with Mr. Austin, said the State Department is seeking $7 billion in aid funds to counter China in the Indo-Pacific region. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said her department has “never been more aggressive in using our department’s tools to address the threats from China.”

That includes a $50 billion investment under the Chips and Science Act, to bolster U.S. semiconductor manufacturing.

A Chinese ‘Top Gun’ knockoff
As the Biden administration seeks to prevent a future conflict with Beijing, Chinese Communist Party organs are stepping up their messaging highlighting preparations for a future war with the United States.

A new Chinese film about the People’s Liberation Army air force called “Born to Fly” appears to be Beijing’s effort to match the American 2022 film “Top Gun Maverick.”

The Chinese film, produced with the help of the PLA, shows test pilots working and dying to develop a new stealth fighter. The fighter is reportedly being prepared for a conflict against an unnamed foreign enemy whose soldiers speak American-accented English in the movie.

According to a person who worked in China for many years, the government has for at least the past decade been preparing the population for a future war with what Chinese officials regard as their main enemy — the United States.

The propaganda campaign is widespread, promoted in schools and universities and especially in the required reading of Communist Party members and government officials throughout the country.

The PLA film is evidence of this trend, as The Economist stated in the magazine’s review of the movie.

“’Born to Fly’ is the highest-profile flick of this type to normalize the notion that the present-day PLA’s mission is to fight and kill Americans,” the magazine stated.

According to The Economist and other reviewers, the film uses anti-American tropes and repeats claims by President Xi Jinping that China is being targeted by U.S.-led technology restrictions and a U.S.-led campaign to “contain” China‘s rise.

“‘Born to Fly’ is ‘Top Gun’ with added nationalist grievance and no sex,” the magazine wrote. “If it is a hit in China’s cinemas, it should alarm the world like a beaten drum.”

Ex-Stratcom general criticizes Biden nuclear strategy
Retired Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, a former commander of the Strategic Command, is warning that the current Biden administration nuclear strategy fails to match the growing threats from China and Russia.

Gen. Chilton, who directed U.S. nuclear forces from 2007 to 2011, said in an interview with the National Institute for Public Policy, a think tank, that he disagrees with the administration’s announced goal to reduce reliance on nuclear arms at a time when both China and Russia are increasing dependence on strategic weapons.

Asked if the administration’s recent nuclear posture review and its policy recommendations reflect current dangers and offers appropriate responses, Gen. Chilton said: “In short, no to both.”

“Power, particularly the power wielded by dictatorial and imperialistic regimes such as Russia and China, only respects power,” he added. “These regimes thrive on the weakness of their adversaries. This [nuclear posture review] continues to reflect the folly of both the ‘mirror imaging’ of our adversaries — i.e., the notion that China and Russia must surely hold the same values and risk tolerances that we do — as well as the notion that they will follow our lead in any matter that is not aligned with their own national interests.”

Gen. Chilton said he opposes eliminating a new, nuclear-tipped sea-launched cruise missile, known as the SLCM-N, and retiring the aircraft-carried B63-1 nuclear gravity bomb, both recommended by the Biden administration.

The SLCM-N is needed to prevent China from threatening a “homeland vs. homeland” nuclear exchange to prevent the United States from intervening in support of Taiwan during an invasion, the retired four-star general said. The B63, he added, is needed for striking deeply buried Chinese and Russian targets and should not be eliminated unless a suitable replacement is deployed.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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