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Senate panel OKs $6 billion military fund to confront China

WASHINGTON ― Plans for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, a new military fund to boost deterrence against China in the Pacific, is one step closer to becoming law.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved nearly $6 billion for the fund in its version of the annual defense policy bill, the panel announced Thursday. It authorizes $1.4 billion in fiscal 2021, which would be $188.6 million above the administration’s budget request, and $5.5 billion for fiscal 2022―and it directs the defense secretary to create a spending plan for all of the funds.

“The best way to protect U.S. security and prosperity in Asia is to maintain a credible balance of military power, but, after years of underfunding, America’s ability to do so is at risk,” the committee’s summary states. “The FY21 NDAA establishes the Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI) to send a strong signal to the Chinese Communist Party that America is deeply committed to defending our interests in the Indo-Pacific.”

“PDI will enhance budgetary transparency and oversight, focus resources on key military capability gaps, reassure U.S. allies and partners, and bolster the credibility of American deterrence in the Indo-Pacific.”

Though not all details of the fund were immediately made public, SASC Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Ranking Member Jack Reed, D-R.I., had announced previously they would be sponsoring a measures to enable U.S. military operations in the region, beyond new weapons platforms.

Though Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said China tops DoD’s adversaries list, Congress has been working to boost the Pentagon’s spending and focus in the region. The PDI would follow the form of the multi-year European Deterrence Initiative, which has consumed $22 billion since its inception after Russia invaded Ukraine and illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.

Congress will have to negotiate what the PDI would cost and what it would buy, but House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., and ranking member Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, have both expressed support for the idea. Thornberry has proposed spending $6 billion in fiscal year 2021 on priorities that include air and missile defense systems and new military construction in partner countries, and Smith hasn’t released his own plan.

Once approved by the full Senate, its National Defense Authorization Act would be reconciled with the House’s version, which the HASC is expected to make public late this month before HASC will mark up on July 1 and advance to the House floor.

With an eye on China beyond the PDI, the SASC bill also encourages the Air Force to establish an F-35A operating location in the Indo-Pacific and to allocate “sufficient resources and prioritize the protection of air bases that might be under attack from current or emerging cruise missiles and advanced hypersonic missiles, specifically from China.”

There are also a number of provisions aimed at safeguarding America’s technology and industrial base from Chinese intellectual property theft and “economic aggression,” according to the summary. The bill would also require reports from the Pentagon on how to mitigate the risks from vendors like Chinese telecom firms Huawei and ZTE when basing U.S. troops overseas.

The SASC summary said its proposed PDI would:

– Increase lethality of the joint force in the Pacific, including by improving active and passive defense against theater cruise, ballistic, hypersonic missiles for bases, operating locations, and other critical infrastructure.

– Enhance the design and posture of the joint force in the Indo-Pacific by transitioning from large, centralized, and unhardened infrastructure to smaller, dispersed, resilient, and adaptive basing; increasing the number of capabilities of expeditionary airfields and ports; enhancing prepositioning of forward stocks of fuel, munitions, equipment, and materiel; and improving distributed logistics and maintenance capabilities in region to ensure the sustainment of logistics under persistent multi-domain attack.

– Strengthen alliances and partnerships to increase capabilities, improve interoperability and information sharing, and support information operations capabilities with a focus on countering malign influence.

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