Milley, Austin Defend a-10, Global Hawk Retirements at SASC
WASHINGTON: In a long day for the Senate Armed Services Committee, lawmakers approved five senior defense nominees, including Frank Kendall as Air Force Secretary and Heidi Shyu to be undersecretary for research and engineering, by voice vote this afternoon, after a morning hearing with the Defense Secretary, who defended his 2022 budget.
The biggest challenge facing the Biden Administration as the 2022 request wends its way through Congress is almost certain to be the opposition by lawmakers to Pentagon plans to divest a host of aging weapons that are expensive to maintain and eat up money that would be used for new weapons to better deter China. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin clearly knew they’d face criticism from lawmakers who really don’t like change because it can affect jobs and cash in their districts and states.
North Dakota Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer questioned them about plans to retire the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30. His state, unsurprisingly, is host to Global Hawks at Beale Air Force base.
“It has to do with relevance and pivoting to the future,” Milley explained. “This budget biases the future operating environment, the change in the character of war and against the pacing threat of China. That’s not to say that we’re going to stop everything with respect to A-10s, MQ-9s or some of these systems, but we’ve got to make that turn.”
And, of course, some members of the SASC defended the A-10 as the best Close Air Support plane, one without peer in the US fleet. They ran right into Milley, who admitted he was fond of the Warthog, having been in combat a fair amount, but the Army general defended the decision. He also mentioned, obliquely, a fact A-10 supporters don’t discuss much — it’s vulnerability in a major war.
“We’ve got to recognize and begin to shift toward a future operating environment and the changing character of war, and we must shift the capabilities that are going to be relevant, survivable and effective against a tier one adversary sometime in the future. This is a modest decrease in the number of A-10s. I think it is an acceptable risk and I support the Air Force’s recommendation,” Gen .Milley said.
One of the more interesting exchanges occurred with Sen. Angus King, who worried that an “accidental conflict” with China might erupt over Taiwan and noted there is no hotline to America’s top competitor.
“This should be a national security priority,” he told Austin and Milley.
When he asked Austin if this was a good idea, the Defense Secretary said: “I think we need the ability to be able to talk not only with our allies and partners, but with your adversaries — possible adversaries.”
In a move that doubtless sent frissons of fear coursing through the Chinese leadership, King said he’d found 11 copies of Barbara Tuchman’s book, The Guns of August, in Chinese on Amazon and threatened to send them to the Politburo. I’m betting they’d find an account of Japan’s 1905 defeat of the Russian fleet more intriguing.