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Austin Outlines What's Needed for Successful Competition With China

This year's budget request for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, or PDI, is a full 40% higher than last year's request, said Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, and that's part of a DOD-wide effort to outpace the People's Republic of China.

"We're focusing the entire department on continuing to outpace the PRC as the President's National Security Strategy notes," Austin told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee during testimony Tuesday. "The PRC is our only competitor, with both the intent and increasingly the capacity to reshape the international system to suit its autocratic preferences."

A man in a suit speaks while sitting at a table.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III provides testimony at the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on "A Review of the President's Fiscal Year 24 Budget Request: Investing in U.S. Security, Competitiveness and the Path Ahead for the U.S.-China Relationship," Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., May 16, 2023.
Photo By: Chad J. McNeeley, DOD
VIRIN: 230516-D-TT977-0103

To counter that, Austin said, the Department of Defense is now investing more in its force posture in the Pacific, including $9.1 billion aimed at the PDI. That increase, he said funds more agile approaches to testing and acquisition and development of new operational concepts for how the joint force is employed.

Also important for successful competition with China is teamwork across the federal government, including with both the State Department and the Commerce Department. The secretaries of both agencies testified alongside Austin. 

"We work with the Department of State to help prevent conflict from breaking out in the first place. We protect the free and open trade lanes that drive the world economy," Austin said. "And we're supporting the Department of Commerce's leading role in implementing the Chips and Science Act. And we work closely with Commerce to advance our technological advantages." 

Nations in the Indo-Pacific, Austin said, are as interested in keeping the region open for free trade as the United States. Austin also said those nations are viable partners in the endeavor.

"Most countries in the region share a common vision of an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific, free of bullying and coercion," he said. "We're proud to stand together with them. So we'll continue to strengthen the rules-based international order by making clear the folly of aggression and maintaining open lines of communication." 

The U.S. depends on its network of allies and partners to further its interests — including successfully competing with China.

"The whole administration is working to deepen ties with our network of alliances," Austin said. "We're working with our friends around the Indo-Pacific and the world through security cooperation and assistance, and through combined operations and exercises. We're also working to develop innovative new capabilities and deepen integrated deterrence." 

One example of that, he said, is increased deployment of assets in Japan, including plans to deploy the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment. Another example is new force posture initiatives with Australia. And in the Philippines, he said, the U.S. will have access to new locations to rotate forces in and out. 

"Meanwhile, we're expanding our security cooperation with South Korea, India, Thailand, Singapore and many others," he said. "We're deepening our ties with [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and the Quad [the United States, Australia, India and Japan.] And I'm pleased that the United States will soon provide significant additional security assistance to Taiwan through the Presidential drawdown authority that Congress authorized last year." 

Austin also said that successful competition with China means that the U.S. must pass an on-time budget to fund the efforts he discussed. 

"The best way that Congress can ensure our strategic advantage is with an on-time appropriation that supports the President's budget request," he said. "No amount of money can buy back the time that we lose when we're forced to operate on continuing resolutions." 

Without an on-time budget, Austin said, the department is hampered in its ability to start important new contracts which are important to its defense efforts. One example of that, he said, is with ship-building efforts, which would affect delivery of Columbia-class and Virginia-class submarines, for instance.

A submarine sits in a shipyard.
USS Hyman G. Rickover
The USS Hyman G. Rickover, a Virginia class submarine, seen prior to the christening ceremony in Groton, Conn., July 31, 2021.
Photo By: John Narewski, Navy
VIRIN: 210731-N-UM744-001

"It will delay our ability to get the critical munitions that we need for ourselves and also to support our allies and partners as well," Austin said. Included among the kinds of munitions that a continuing resolution might affect the availability of are the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, Tomahawks, the Advanced Medium Range Air-To-Missile and MK 48 torpedoes 

"The list is pretty extensive," Austin said.

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