Wicker Highlights Defense Budget Priorities in Senate Floor Speech

Armed Services Leader: Five Key Areas of Military Improvement Needed to Deter China

March 30, 2023

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, today took to the Senate floor to highlight his defense budget priorities.

Wicker noted the significant advances China is making in a variety of military capabilities and encouraged Congress to increase the President’s defense budget request.

“President Biden has proposed another military cut. Twice now he has proposed cuts, and twice Congress has replied with an emphatic and bipartisan ‘no.’ Instead, Congress added over the last two fiscal years $70 billion of targeted investments to our military to help us catch up with China,” Wicker said. “I am confident on a bipartisan basis … we will do this for the next fiscal year.”

Specifically, Wicker highlighted the need to develop and invest in five different American defense capabilities: communications and munitions supplies, our naval fleet, fighter jets, recruiting, and defense infrastructure. Wicker noted that those investments – while significant – could prevent disaster in what is the most dangerous and complex security environment since World War II.

“Mr. President, the United States has not faced national security challenges on this scale, scope, and complexity since World War II. This moment is a fork in the road,” Wicker said. “Neither the peace we have enjoyed nor the war some predict are inevitable. Decisions we make will determine whether that occurs. Effective deterrence will be a complex operation, but its starting place is simple: we must, once again, for the third year, increase the military budget.”

Read the full speech as delivered below or watch here.

Mr. President, I come to the floor today to discuss, again, a key constitutional duty: to provide for the common defense.

The Constitution lays this weighty task at the feet of Congress. We hold the purse strings, and today our task is to provide for sustained growth in the capacity and capability of our armed forces. For thirty years, we have lived off the military investments of the 1980s, and these investments have kept China and Russia and other from attacking us. They have kept us safe. Today, those investments have largely expired, and both Beijing and Moscow are acting increasingly adversarial. In particular, China’s military is growing so quickly that we will not long deter them – unless we invest more in our military, too. It will cost a lot to deter Beijing. But it will cost a lot more if we do not.

In February, I delivered a speech on our most dire national security challenge: preventing the Chinese aggression against Taiwan. Defending our security and prosperity means defending Taiwan. If the island falls, the global balance of power tilts for decades. Our children and grandchildren would then not live in an American-led 21st century.

Today, I will focus on the Chinese Communist Party’s rapid military buildup and the United States’ opportunities to boost our military capability. I will show how both demand sustained real growth in our defense budget alongside increased reform and prioritization.

Inexplicably, in the face of these facts, President Biden has proposed another military cut. Twice now he has proposed cuts, and twice Congress has replied with an emphatic and bipartisan “no.” Instead, Congress added, over the last two fiscal years, $70 billion of targeted investments to our military to help us catch up with China. I am confident on a bipartisan basis again Mr. President, we will do this for the next fiscal year.

So let’s begin by outlining the rising threat of the Chinese Communist Party.

As Congress considers this year’s military spending commitments, we need to consider what we are up against. U.S military investment must counter Chinese military investment. If we do not, history may one day bestow on our moment, on this time, the ignominious title of “pre-war period.” I hope we’re not in a pre-war period. If we are prepared, there is a much greater chance that we can avoid a war in the future.

We know China intends to dominate the Pacific. They boast about it in public speeches, and they are building a military capable of turning their rhetoric into reality.

We have debated what year we should be worried about – some say 2023, 2025, 2027. Some say 2035. Secretary Blinken says China wants to seize Taiwan “on a much faster” timeline than we had previously thought. The 2027 date, what some call the Davidson window, is based on Xi Jinping’s orders to his military about when he expects them to be ready. We would all do well to remember that dictators often start wars of aggression before their militaries are ready: Look no further than Germany and Japan in World War II, and look at Putin’s Russia today.

If Putin’s invasion of Ukraine taught us anything, it is that the plans of dictators are often driven as much by delusions of grandeur as by honest assessments of relative military capabilities. This is what makes the next few years so dangerous. Last year, Xi Jinping fully consolidated his control over the Chinese Communist Party, beginning a historic third term, which lasts through 2028, with very few restraints on his power. And it shows.

As the People’s Liberation Army grows more capable and the Chinese Communist Party faces growing domestic turmoil, Beijing may soon decide that its power is peaking. That may prompt them to act sooner rather than later.

China is certainly signaling a sinister intent. Last August, they concluded unprecedented military drills around Taiwan’s most-trafficked waterways and flight routes. They did so arguably to project strength in response to Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island, when she was then Speaker of the House. They build replicas of U.S. Navy ships, aircraft, and air defense systems. They regularly practice striking these replicas.

Their military buildup is the strongest signal of their intent to dominate the Pacific. I, along with many other senators, have seen the sobering classified reports. But the public picture is grim enough. The Chinese Communist Party just announced the expansion of its defense budget by 7.2 percent for this year, about six times the increase the Biden administration proposed. Beijing has increased its military spending every year for more than 20 years, and we know, Mr. President, that they actually hide massive portions of their defense budget.

By simply looking at Beijing’s quantitative and qualitative improvements, we see that Beijing spends freely on its military.

China has expanded its nuclear forces faster than anyone thought possible. Already, they have more ground-based nuclear weapon launchers than we do. This changes our entire nuclear readiness calculus. For seven decades, we focused on matching the Russian nuclear arsenal. But we experienced a new Sputnik moment when we watched the Chinese hypersonic glide vehicle perform maneuvers we had never contemplated.

China has also rapidly expanded its conventional sea, air, and rocket forces.

Their Navy outnumbers ours. They will have more than 460 ships by 2030. U.S. naval intelligence indicates these ships may already be as high-quality as our own – yet our senior Navy leadership continues to underestimate Chinese capabilities. China’s civilian fleet is expanding also, and the People’s Liberation Army has used it in mock amphibious invasions. The civilian fleet.

The Chinese Air Force has shed its 3rd-generation Vietnam-era fighters and built an impressive 4th-generation fighter force. They are building 5th-generation fighters at scale today – just like we are – and their air-to-air missiles have greater range than U.S. missiles. China’s air warfare training has advanced beyond anything we thought possible five years ago.

The Chinese Rocket Force points thousands of short-range ballistic missiles at Taiwan and hundreds of long-range missiles at U.S. bases in Japan, Guam, and elsewhere.

China has not restricted its advances to traditional military domains either.

It is a major player on the cyber battlefield. Top United States cyber commander, General Nakasone, says the increase in Chinese cyberwarfare capabilities has been unlike anything he has ever seen. Unlike anything General Nakasone has ever seen. Earlier this year, our top non-military cyber official told us the Chinese would combine an attack on Taiwan, if that occurs, with broad attacks on U.S. cyber infrastructure, and that certainly makes sense.

Beijing has also overtaken Russia in space. Russia’s now the junior partner to Communist China, Not only in space communications and intelligence satellites but also in space warfighting capabilities.

And finally, China is building a multi-national syndicate of bad-actor nations. Beijing envisions itself as the central character in an anti-U.S. coalition that includes junior partner Russia, as well as North Korea. Xi Jinping took a significant step in that direction last week when he visited Vladimir Putin – a man he has described as his “best, most intimate friend.”

As China’s military rises, regrettably, the United States military has treaded water. I will identify five areas of improvement to help our military catch China.

First, we have not focused nearly enough on honing our capabilities in a set of key areas we need to win. Our efforts to build a series of modern and flexible command and control networks are just now gaining steam. We still possess no relevant mine warfare capabilities. After three decades of neglect, we are just beginning to rebuild core competencies in electronic warfare. We have finally begun to build the right bases in the right locations in the Western Pacific, and we have Senators Reed and Inhofe, the authors of last year’s NDAA, to thank for that. So I issue my thanks to this bipartisan team, Mr. President.

Our munitions industrial base is in woeful shape, and we have only begun to scratch the surface of our production capacity. I am pleased to see the Pentagon moving in the right direction, but it remains clear to me that Congress can take additional actions, should take additional actions, this year to accelerate and expand production.

Second, we should rapidly work to expand our naval fleet. As I said, China’s fleet size has eclipsed ours, and yet the Department of Defense proposes ship decommissionings. The Marine Corps was unable to assist victims of the earthquakes in Turkey just a few months ago because the Navy lacked enough amphibious ships. Yet President Biden’s budget proposes to end an entire amphibious ship production line. An entire production line. I do not believe this Congress will allow that to happen.

Our Navy Secretary recently noted that one Chinese shipyard, one Chinese shipyard, has more capacity than all of ours combined. For many years, we’ve tried to wring more efficiency out of our existing shipbuilding industrial base. And for many years, we have largely failed. Without a massive change in direction and an infusion of funds, we are unlikely to grow the fleet beyond 300 ships over the next decade. And I would remind my colleagues that the statutory minimum requirement enacted by this Congress and signed by the president of the United States is 355 ships at a minimum. It is time for the U.S. Congress to lead this nation in expanding the shipbuilding industrial base.

Third, our Reagan-era Air Force fleets grows older. For years, we’ve known we need to purchase 72 tactical aircraft each year to have a healthy fleet. 72 each year. For years, we’ve failed to do so, Mr. President. Our next-generation fighters are still nearly a decade away, as are significant numbers of autonomous wingmen for them. And the Air Force remains almost 2,000 pilots short this year.

Fourth, we are on the leading edge of a recruitment crisis. By the end of this year, the Army could be 40,000 soldiers smaller than it was just 18 months ago. 40,000 soldiers short, even as its missions continue to increase. The Navy and Air Force are not far behind. The recruiting crisis is a complex problem that will require a multi-faceted solution. And we had the Chief of Staff of the Army before the Armed Services Committee with the Secretary of the Army, just this morning, Mr. President, to discuss this and other important issues. However, the budget can, right away, provide one solution. We should set aside funds for barracks and facilities improvements. Potential recruits have frequently cited poor living conditions as one reason not to enlist.

Fifth, we must boost our defense infrastructure. Almost two years ago, I led an amendment on the infrastructure bill – not the defense bill, the infrastructure bill – along with Senators Shelby and Inhofe, that would have devoted $50 billion to begin boosting this foundational infrastructure. We never got a vote. Unfortunately, that amendment was blocked. Our shipyards, military family housing, hypersonic test ranges, ammo plants, and other sites are key in enabling our military to be ready and capable. Perhaps such an amendment would pass today with broad bipartisan support. The facts certainly call for it.

Finally, we must link increased investment with accelerated reform in the Pentagon. The Department of Defense’s audit championed by former Deputy Secretary David Norquist progressed more in the last five years than in the last twenty-five years before that. The Marines may become the first service to earn a clean financial bill of health this year. That’s good news. Deputy Secretary Hicks has also embraced and accelerated efforts begun by Deputy Secretary Norquist to bring 21st century, data-driven management practices to DoD. This work has already saved tens of billions of dollars.

Congress will continue to lead and partner with the Pentagon in ongoing and new reform efforts. This year, experts with the Pentagon budgeting commission will help Congress find ways to innovate more quickly and improve the relationship between Congress and the Department of Defense. I also believe the Office of Strategic Capital will help us partner with American private capital. American capital is an advantage we have, yet we do not leverage it often enough in the national security space. The Office of Strategic Capital can help diversify our defense industrial base to compete with the People’s Republic of China in a cost-effective manner.

Cost-saving measures, though necessary, will not be enough. Counterintuitively, many reforms cost money upfront. Senator Inhofe, my predecessor as ranking member of the committee, was correct when he said: We cannot spend our way out of the challenges we face, but we can spend too little to give ourselves a chance.

Mr. President, the United States has not faced national security challenges on this scale, scope, and complexity since World War II. This moment is a fork in the road. Neither the peace we have enjoyed nor the war some predict are inevitable. Decisions we make will determine whether that occurs. Effective deterrence will be a complex operation, but its starting place is simple: we must, once again, for the third year, increase the military budget. And as we grow the budget, we will save where we can, prioritize the most effective purchases, and share the load with our allies and partners and insist that they do their share. Again, it will cost a lot to deter China, but it will cost a lot more if we do not.