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President Biden’s budget fails St. Louis and our F-18 fleet. Here’s how.

June 23, 2021

Hartzler: President Biden’s budget fails St. Louis and our F-18 fleet. Here’s how.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO)
June 23, 2021

The Chinese Communist Party is rapidly growing its operational reach, bolstering its military capabilities and increasing its modern weapons systems. China has already achieved parity with, or even exceeded, the United States in several military modernization areas. With this expansion, that nation has compiled the largest Navy and ground force, and the third largest aviation force in the world. The military threat from China is real, and if our nation does not keep up with this threat, there will be serious repercussions for the security of American citizens and our allies.

Despite this threat, President Joe Biden has failed to demonstrate his commitment to supporting a strong national defense that will provide a credible deterrent against China. Our commander in chief is asking Congress to cut defense spending by $4 billion in real dollars — cutting ammunition, aircraft and troop levels — at a time when China is rapidly increasing its capabilities and threatening stability in the Pacific. In comparison, the Asian power’s defense budget has increased annually for the last 30 years, including a 29% rise in just the past five years alone.

The Department of Defense faces a serious problem that it cannot afford to ignore. Every service is undergoing a long overdue modernization effort, while simultaneously recovering from two decades of war in the Middle East. America is also in the process of standing up a brand new branch of the military — the United States Space Force.

Put simply: You can’t modernize, build or rebuild with less.

Let’s be clear: Biden’s defense budget cuts procurement of critical defense systems by 6% across all the services, divests over 200 aircraft, and cuts troop levels by 5,400.

In fact, the Navy aviation budget request, which includes the Marine Corps, decreased by $3 billion compared to current levels. This decrease includes the elimination of the planned purchase of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, despite the fact the Navy currently has a strike fighter shortfall of 49 aircraft — the equivalent to an entire air wing. This shortfall will be exacerbated without additional Super Hornet production. I recently spent time at Boeing’s St. Louis headquarters to examine our Super Hornet program. While the Navy’s justification for this decision is to invest in its next generation aircraft, its Next Generation Air Dominance program has just begun defining aircraft requirements and developing concepts.

These Super Hornets are a proven platform that will make up the vast majority of the strike fighter force for at least the next decade. Modernizing in this regard is a positive step. However, doing so without plans to replace the lost capability is why we need the Super Hornet.

This decision also comes at a time when our aircraft carriers have been constantly deployed to balance threats posed by Iran and others in the Middle East, along with China in the Indo-Pacific. Canceling the acquisition of the Super Hornet creates too much operational risk and could impede our ability to deter and respond to China in the near-term.

But that’s not all. This budget is just as problematic for our Army. It is estimated that the Army’s budget needed to be $180 billion just to keep pace with America’s inflation issue, which has only grown under the current administration’s rapid and overzealous spending sprees. This budget offers only $173 billion for the Army, which is a significant cut to their purchasing ability during its efforts to prepare for this great power competition. One of the proposed cuts is to small caliber ammunition, which is produced right here in Missouri at the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant.

Biden’s inadequate defense budget is forcing military leaders to make impossible choices between near-term readiness and long-term modernization priorities. A responsible defense budget would invest in future capabilities, while ensuring current capabilities are still available before replacements are operational. Unfortunately, this proposed budget will erase years of progress made in rebuilding and modernizing our military.

Congress must make the responsible national security decision and adequately fund our military to ensure our service members have the resources needed to address and deter China today and meet evolving threats in the future. This budget simply fails to meet the urgency of today’s security environment and will certainly create vulnerabilities that unpredictable Iran will notice, opportunist Russia will observe, and a rising China will exploit.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., is a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and as a member of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China was officially sanctioned by China.