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Official: U.S. Military Superiority Isn't Guaranteed

The Pentagon's top weapons buyer told lawmakers that the U.S. is investing in advanced weapons for potential use in the Asia-Pacific region, but that American military technological superiority isn't guaranteed amid budget cuts.

Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, testified last week before the House Armed Services Committee that the Defense Department is investing everything from fighter jets and surface ships, to ballistic missiles to space and cyberspace defenses. The armament is designed in part to counter the type of anti-access and area-denial systems being developed by China and other countries.

But Kendall warned lawmakers that American military technological superiority isn't assured amid an era of automatic federal spending reductions known as sequestration.

"This is not a future problem," he said. "It's a here-and-now problem."

The Pentagon faces about $1 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade as part of 2011 deficit-reduction legislation known as the Budget Control Act. That includes almost $500 billion in reductions already planned and another $500 billion in automatic cuts. Recent legislation delayed some of these reductions to the department, about $31 billion over the next two years.

"I feel very confident with our capabilities," Kendall said. "I'm not sure I'd be able to say that 5 or 10 years down the road."

The undersecretary said he became concerned about possible shortfalls in the level of U.S. funding needed to develop advanced weapons systems shortly after returning to the Defense Department as the principal deputy undersecretary in 2010. He said he grew more worried after reviewing the likely impacts to the defense budget under sequestration as part of last year's Strategic Choices and Management Review, or SCMR (pronounced "skimmer").

The Pentagon considered options under three budget scenarios with varying levels of cuts: $150 billion over 10 years, as included in President Barack Obama's fiscal 2014 budget request; $250 billion over a decade; or the full sequester amount of $500 billion over the same period.

Kendall said there are "a range of things that deserve greater investment than we may be able to afford at the current levels." He declined to cite specific programs, but said last year's budget was crafted with research and development and procurement funding to support the department's strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific region.

Kendall said he has been particularly "struck by the nature and scope" of China's spending on anti-access and area-denial technology.

The Pentagon last year concluded that China wants to be able to control the flow of information in the event of a war to thwart data-hungry adversaries such as the U.S., according to the department's annual assessment of China’s armed forces. The People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, considers the strategy of “information dominance” a critical form of defense against countries that it views as “information dependent,” according to the document.

"PLA authors often cite the need in modern warfare to control information, sometimes termed ‘information blockade’ or ‘information dominance,’ and to seize the initiative and gain an information advantage in the early phases of a campaign to achieve air and sea superiority," the document states.

The country’s "investments in advanced electronic warfare systems, counterspace weapons, and computer network operations … reflect the emphasis and priority China’s leaders place on building capability for information advantage," it states.

The report concluded China’s military build-up is continuing, with investments in missiles, drones and cyber warfare as part of a plan to deter the U.S. and other countries from intervening in the region. The U.S. calls these types of missions "anti-access/area-denial," or A2/AD, while the PLA refers to them as "counter-intervention operations," it states.

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