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Blunt Questions Top U.S. Defense Officials About Inflation Impacting the Defense Budget, Aid to Ukraine, and Future Defense Challenges

May 04, 2022

WASHINGTON – During a Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing yesterday, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.) questioned Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley about the impact of inflation on President Biden’s proposed budget, which would turn the proposed funding increase for the Department of Defense into an effective budget cut. Blunt also emphasized the need for the United States to replenish its weapons stockpile and invest in emerging technologies to ensure continued American strength and global security.

Following is a Transcript:

On the Impact of Inflation on the Defense Budget:

BLUNT: Secretary Austin, I think McKinsey had a report out last year that indicated that, from 2000 to 2021, the defense cost index, the inflation index, ran about 20 points ahead of the other, the CPI, during that period of time. Do you think this budget will reflect the world we're in now in terms of replenishing our stock and getting ready for the future? It's about a 5% increase in an inflationary economy. It seems to me we may not be holding our own, let alone moving forward here.

AUSTIN: Well thanks, Senator. Before I answer that question, let me thank you for your service, and, you know, tremendous service to our country, and to the Senate so. And thanks for your support of the military on behalf of the entire Department of Defense. As I said earlier, when we crafted this budget, we built the budget based upon our strategy. And, at that point, you have to make assumptions about levels of inflation. And so we used the appropriate number, what we believed to be the appropriate number at that time, and things have changed now. So there is a difference.

On Replenishing U.S. Stockpile of Weapons Provided to Ukraine:

BLUNT: Well, that's helpful. And I'm sure we're going to be discussing that more with the secretaries as they come in. So it's helpful to—I missed your observation about that. And I think it's helpful to know that that's where you are now. You know, a number of things have changed. And one is we have an intent to provide our Ukrainian friends with a lot more things to fight with. Does this budget, at this point, anticipate replacing the Javelins or the Stinger missiles that we have given or will give to them?

AUSTIN: It is a substantial budget in my view, Senator. And it allows us to go after the things that we need to have to support our warfighting concepts that are outlined in our strategy here. Again, China is listed as our pacing challenge. Russia is listed as an acute threat. The supplementals that you've provided us, to this point, have been very helpful in going after the kinds of things that you mentioned. And, again, this next supplemental that the president has asked for your support on will enable us to do what you just described, replenish stocks, and also continue to support Ukraine. But the supplemental funds are really focused on that.

BLUNT: Well, to pursue that just a little bit more, I think we've roughly provided, roughly 5,000 Javelins and 1,400 Stingers. The Javelins, that's about a third of our stockpile already provided, and the Stingers about 25% of our stockpile. Is it possible to replace a third of our stockpile or let's say 50% before we're done here within a year?

AUSTIN: It certainly is. It is not only possible, but we will do that. We will never go below our minimum requirement for our stockpile. So we will always maintain the capability to defend this country and support our interests. But this will help us to not only replenish our stockpiles, but also replace some of the capability that we've asked our partners and allies to provide. Some of the eastern flank countries early on provided Stingers and other countries provided Javelins upon our request. And so it'll help us do that.

On Anticipating and Preparing for Future Defense Challenges:

BLUNT: Well, I know we'll want to work with you on that. General Milley, let me get in one more question here. I know you're a great student of warfare. And my guess is we've all learned a lot in the last three months of assumptions. Prior to what's happened in Ukraine, and what we've seen happen, in terms of effectiveness of force or the weapons that are most effective, we're seeing in that theater of war. Does this budget yet reflect what you think the next budget should probably reflect in terms of our transition? To be sure we're keeping up with the lessons we're learning from modern warfare?

MILLEY: It does. It moves us in the right direction for sure. This has got the most research and development of any budget in NDAA history, actually. And it's a very significant movement into the future. And, as we look at what's happening in Ukraine or, for example, in Mosul or Syria, what we're seeing is some fundamental change in the character of war that is going to lead into the future. One of those changes is highly dense urban area combat. You saw the battle of Kiev, for example, and the Russian failure there. You're seeing the ubiquitous use of precision munitions. You're seeing the use of drones, for example, in unmanned aerial vehicles. You're seeing the very effective use of air defense systems, both SAMS and MANPADS to deny the Russians the airspace. And the most effective weapon they've used so far has been anti-tank weapons. And, of course, Javelin is what we have, but many of the countries are providing all kinds of NLAWs and Carl-Gustafs and RPGs, a wide variety of anti-tank weapons. So the combination of all of that together has led the Russians to not achieve the successes that they thought they would have. And those have direct application. And I think this budget takes that into account. But, beyond that, this budget also is investing in artificial intelligence, robotics, most of which we're not really seeing in the current battlefield. But we do expect those to be very, very significant players in a future battle, you know, 20, 30 years from now, something like that. Those are going to be dominant technologies at that time. And this budget takes us on that path.

BLUNT: Thank you. Thank you, Chairman.


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