WASHINGTON ― Fifteen House lawmakers are calling on appropriators to fully fund a $4.7 billion request for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative amid criticism President Joe Biden’s new defense budget submission has missed the mark.
Led by Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., the bipartisan group wants to meet a list of requirements the previous chief of Indo-Pacific Command, then-Adm. Philip Davidson, submitted to Congress in March. Biden’s 2022 budget, released Friday, contains $5.1 billion for PDI, but it’s a departure from the needs in Davidson’s Sec. 1251 report.
“USINDOPACOM has an urgent requirement for a more lethal, hardened, and dispersed American military posture in the Indo-Pacific region,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Betty McCollum, D-Minn., and ranking member Ken Calvert, R-Calif.
“In this unique budget cycle, while we are still awaiting full details on where these new starts and existing programs will be located at the program, project, and activity level, we express our strong support for the full funding of $4.68 billion of collective initiatives outlined by [INDOPACOM].”
Notable signatories include House Seapower Subcommittee chairman, Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., and ranking member, Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., as well as House Armed Services Committee Democratic Reps. Elaine Luria and Elissa Slotkin, and Republican Reps. Mike Turner and Matt Gaetz.
The lawmakers highlight INDOPACOM’s top priority, a missile defense system to protect Guam, for which the Biden budget offers half the $350 million INDOPACOM proposed.
They also emphasize funding for the Homeland Defense Radar – Hawaii, a $1.9 billion project omitted from the Missile Agency’s latest budget request. The agency is reportedly seeking public feedback on potential sites for the array, meant to quickly identify missile threats to Hawaii.
When the budget was released, lead Pentagon budget official Anne McAndrew said the request contains a range of spending for the Indo-Pacific and that the PDI subsection reflects “investments especially important to developing the robust capability required to maintain deterrence.”
The lion’s share, or $4.9 billion, funds “joint force lethality,” with $150 million for exercises, experimentation and innovation, and $23 million for force design and posture. The account covers increased investments in the Tomahawk and Standard Missile 6; land-based conventional fires exceeding the 500 km-limit of the defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and hypersonic weapons like the Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike capability.
Just ahead of Biden’s budget announcement, Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and his House counterpart, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said in a statement that the Biden PDI submission had “entirely missed the point.”
In a Defense News op-ed Wednesday, a former lead adviser to SASC Republicans on the development of the PDI, Dustin Walker, argued that Congress established it specifically to invest in and track joint and enabling capabilities for the Pacific, but most of Biden’s PDI goes toward big-ticket procurement items, like the F-35 program and Navy vessels.
“Congress should remove platform-centric investments from PDI,” Walker says. “Shipbuilding and F-35 upgrades are important investments that should be funded elsewhere in the budget, not in PDI.”
The budget request includes more than $1 billion in infrastructure investments in Guam, Japan and Australia, but they’re not identified as PDI investments ― even though one of the largest categories in Davidson’s report involves new infrastructure, like training facilities, “power projection airfields” and prepositioned stores around the region.
“Congress established PDI to improve budget transparency and oversight,” Walker says. “The Pentagon’s PDI request does the opposite by omitting investments that would fit well within PDI, while including those with tenuous connection to the purposes set out by Congress in legislation.”
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.