“Combined, the Russian and Chinese budgets exceed our budgets if all the cards are put on the table,” Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He called China’s increased spending trend “disturbing.”
China and Russia are the U.S. military’s two biggest competitors. Defense secretaries from Jim Mattis to Lloyd Austin have identified China as the “pacing challenge” for the U.S. military.
Senator Jim Inhofe, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, wrote in a recent article that the Chinese defense budget was $604 billion when adjusted for purchasing power, and the Russian defense budget was about $200 billion after adjustments.
‘Too much with too little’
The gaps that used to exist two or three decades ago between U.S. and Chinese military capabilities have narrowed, according to officials.
“We’ve been asking our military to do too much with too little for too long,” said Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma.
“It is our obligation to defend this nation, and this proposed budget does not do so,” added Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi. Other senators, including Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, pointed to funding gaps between what was requested by several military leaders for Pacific defense and what was in the administration’s current budget request.
Milley and Austin said the defense budget, which amounts to $715 billion, required the department to make tough choices, but it was a means to provide the U.S. with “an adequate defense.”
“We’re going after the capabilities that can match the operational concepts that we’re putting into play and allow us to be not only competitive but actually dominant in this competition,” Austin said.
Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, defended the budget, telling his Republican colleagues that while the Biden budget is $6 billion smaller than the proposed Trump administration budget for this year, Trump’s military budgets actually ended up being lower as he repeatedly took money out of the Pentagon budget for “nonmilitary emergencies” such as building a wall along the southern U.S. border.
With the U.S. focus on the growing Chinese threat, Senator Angus King of Maine said Thursday that “one of the most serious risks” was an “accidental conflict with China.” The registered independent pointed to tensions over Taiwan and in the South China Sea, saying the U.S. needed an effective communication line to prevent such a conflict.
“There needs to be a direct line of communication between the military and also between government officials as well,” Austin agreed.
“I’m concerned about something that could happen that could spark a crisis [with China], and I think we need the ability to be able to talk with both our allies and partners, but also our adversaries or potential adversaries,” he said.