Pentagon: Budget readies US for possible China confrontation
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Mark Milley, right, accompanied by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Wednesday, March 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
By Lolita C. Baldor And Tara Copp in Washington
(AP) — The U.S. military must be ready for possible confrontation with China, the Pentagon’s leaders said Thursday, pushing Congress to approve the Defense Department’s proposed $842 billion budget that would modernize the force in Asia and around the world.
“This is a strategy-driven budget — and one driven by the seriousness of our strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in testimony before the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense.
Pointing to increases in new technology, such as hypersonics, Austin said the budget proposes to spend more than $9 billion, a 40% increase over last year, to build up military capabilities in the Pacific and defend allies.
The testimony comes on the heels of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow, amid concerns China will step up its support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine and increasingly threaten the West.
China’s actions, said Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “are moving it down the path toward confrontation and potential conflict with its neighbors and possibly the United States.” He said that deterring and preparing for war “is extraordinarily expensive, but it’s not as expensive as fighting a war. And this budget prevents war and prepares us to fight it if necessary.”
Milley, who will retire later this year, said the Defense Department must continue to modernize its forces to ensure they will be ready to fight if needed.
Two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan eroded the military’s equipment and troop readiness, so the U.S. has been working to replace weapons systems and give troops time to reset. It’s paid off, Milley told Congress.
“Our operational readiness rates are higher now than they have been in many, many years,” Milley said. More than 60% of the active force is at the highest states of readiness right now and could deploy to combat in less than 30 days, while 10% could deploy within 96 hours, he said.
Austin hopes F-16 fight jet training for Ukrainian pilots will begin in coming weeks
WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday he hopes that training for Ukrainian pilots on American-made F-16 fighter jets will begin in the coming weeks, bolstering Ukraine in the long run but not necessarily as part of an anticipated spring counteroffensive against Russia.
Austin spoke as defense leaders from around the world assembled for a virtual meeting to discuss the ongoing military support for Ukraine. They were expected talk about which countries will provide F-16s, and how and where the pilot training will be done.
The officials will also get an update on the war effort from Ukrainian leaders, including preparation for that anticipated counteroffensive and how the allies, who have faced their own stockpile pressures, can continue to support Kyiv’s fight against Russia.
“We’re going to have to dig deeper, and we’re going to have to continue to look for creative ways to boost our industrial capability,” Austin said before the military leaders began their closed session. “The stakes are high. But the cause is just and our will is strong.”
European countries have said they are talking about which countries may have some of the F-16s available. The United States had long balked at providing the advanced aircraft to Ukraine, and only last weekend did President Joe Biden agree to allow other nations to send their own U.S.-made jets to Kyiv.
“We hope this training will begin in the coming weeks,” Austin said. “This will further strengthen and improve the capabilities of the Ukrainian Air Force in the long term. And it will complement our short-term and medium-term security agreements. This new joint effort sends a powerful message about our unity and our long-term commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense.”
The leaders will also likely discuss Ukraine’s other continuing military needs, including air defense systems and munitions, artillery and other ammunition.
It was not immediately clear whether they will make any firm decisions on the F-16 issue, but initial steps have begun.
Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said Tuesday that training for Ukrainian pilots had begun in Poland and some other countries, though Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said training was still in the planning phase. The Netherlands and Denmark, among others, are also making plans for training.
“We can continue and also finalize the plans that we’re making with Denmark and other allies to start these these trainings. And of course, that is the first step that you have to take,” Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said, adding that initial discussions about who may have F-16s available to send is underway.
Ukraine has long sought the sophisticated fighter to give it a combat edge as it battles Russia’s invasion, now in its second year.
The Biden administration’s decision was a sharp reversal after refusing to approve any transfer of the aircraft or conduct training for more than a year because of worries that doing so could escalate tensions with Russia. U.S. officials also had argued against the F-16 by saying that learning to fly and logistically support such an advanced aircraft would be difficult and take months.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said this week that the U.S. decision on the F-16 was part of a broader long-term commitment to meet Ukraine’s future military needs. He said the jets would not be relevant in any counteroffensive expected to begin shortly.
EU welcomes F-16 jet decision for Ukraine; pilots already being trained
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks with the media as he arrives for a meeting with EU defense ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, Tuesday May 23, 2023. The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Tuesday that the U.S. green light to allow Ukrainian pilots get training to fly F-16s has created an inexorable momentum that will inevitably bring the fighter jets to the Ukrainian battlefield. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
By Raf Casert in Brussels
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s foreign policy chief said Tuesday that the U.S. green light to allow Ukrainian pilots to get training to fly F-16s has created an inexorable momentum that will inevitably bring the fighter jets to the Ukrainian battlefield.
“You know, it’s always the same thing: we discuss, at the beginning everybody is reluctant,” said Josep Borrell, giving the example of the long debate and initial opposition to the dispatch of advanced Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine.
“And at the end — with the Leopards, with the F-16 at the end — the decision comes to provide this military support because it is absolutely needed.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that the training decision was the exact thrust necessary toward making the jets available to Ukraine.
“Announcing clearly that they will start training — this is an important step that partly will enable us to deliver fighter jets at some stage,” Stoltenberg said before meeting with EU defense ministers. He said it also proved that the West wouldn’t stand down in the face of Russia, saying such a decision “is sending a very clear signal that we are there for the long term and that Russia can not wait us out.”
Borrell added that training for Ukrainian pilots had already begun in Poland and some other countries, though authorities in Warsaw couldn’t immediately confirm the news. The Netherlands and Denmark, among others, are also making plans for such training.
No decision on actually delivering fourth-generation fighter jets has been taken yet, but training pilots now — a process that takes several months — will help speed up battle readiness once a formal decision is made.
“We can continue and also finalize the plans that we’re making with Denmark and other allies to start these these trainings. And of course, that is the first step that you have to take,” Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said.
“We will continue discussing with our allies and with countries that might have F-16s available about that next step. But that’s not on the table right now,” Ollongren said.
Ukraine has long begged for the sophisticated fighter to give it a combat edge as it battles Russia’s invasion, now in its second year. And this new plan opens the door for several nations to supply the aircraft and for the U.S. to help train the pilots.
With the decision, the Biden administration has made a sharp reversal after refusing to approve any transfer of the aircraft or conduct training for more than a year because of worries that it could escalate tensions with Russia. U.S. officials also have argued against the F-16 by saying that learning to fly and logistically support such an advanced aircraft would be difficult and take months.
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