Despite the proposed investments into emerging technologies, research and development, and cyberspace capabilities highlighted prominently in the rollout of the defense budget for fiscal year 2022, senators during a Thursday hearing were focused on proposed divestments and the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who were joined at the hearing by Defense Department Comptroller Mike McCord, both emphasized investments in artificial intelligence, 5G and microelectronics as critical in written testimony submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Yet lawmakers lent little scrutiny to funds requested for these efforts, like the proposed $10.4 billion for cyberspace activities, $874 million for AI, $398 million for microelectronics, and $1.8 billion for the GPS enterprise.
In his statement, Austin said he’s asked DOD to figure out how to create an improved deterrent against adversaries like China, which requires determining how to better use capabilities the department already has as well as defining what capabilities are needed in the future.
“This means investing in cutting edge technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing,” Austin’s testimony reads. “It also means ensuring that if an adversary attacks one system or domain—in cyberspace or Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites, for example—we are able and ready to respond through appropriate and separate means in other domains, as necessary.”
And in Milley’s testimony, the general called maintaining a technological advantage “imperative.”
“The current rapid and radical change in technology along with its diffusive nature will provide decisive advantage to those nation-states that best master the convergence and capability in precisions munitions, all domain sensors, all domain command and control, robotics, hypersonics and artificial intelligence,” Milley’s testimony reads.
A few passing comments on technology came through: Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., chairman of the committee, mentioned the $112 billion request for research, development, test and evaluation funding as well as the recent Microsoft Exchange and Colonial Pipeline breaches, but didn’t ask questions around either, even as some experts are raising questions as to whether that $112 billion number is as exciting as officials describe.
During an American Enterprise Institute shortly after the budget roll out, Mackenzie Eaglen, resident fellow at AEI focused on defense strategy and budgets, said the RDT&E was actually a “failure of imagination.”
“This really has been a trend since five years ago,” Eaglen said. “The bipartisan Future of Defense Task Force … talked about needing to bridge that acquisition valley of death and get programs into procurement and production. Doesn’t mean everything has to be [a major defense acquisition program], but I see this budget as a failure of imagination to do that.”
Milley’s remarks on all domain sensors and command and control, issues contributing to DOD’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control, or JADC2, concept, also went largely unquestioned. JADC2 is a prominent component of the department’s joint warfighting vision.
Sen. Angus King, I-Vt., mentioned joint operations briefly, requesting Austin to work with the committee on “how to rationalize … the joint acquisition of things like software so that we don’t have silos within the military.” Austin agreed to do so.
But the budget request for a key part of JADC2—the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System—came in lower than anticipated. According to last year’s budget documents, the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2021 budget proposal project ABMS would need nearly $450 million in 2022, but the Biden administration request came in at $204 million. That still marks an increase over what was enacted last year but falls far short of projections.
The hearing comes as budget numbers for information technology at DOD are still a bit murky, too: the Pentagon’s aggregate IT spend number has not yet made its way to the Office of Management and Budget’s IT dashboard, and unlike in years past, DOD has not released a separate budget document detailing proposed IT and cyber investments.