Supporting Ukraine and countering China top the Pentagon’s 2023 to-do list

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Supporting Ukraine and countering China top the Pentagon’s 2023 to-do list

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The Department of Defense is heading into the new year confronting a bevy of issues vital to national security, ranging from continuing to help Ukraine fend off Russian aggression, accounting for the gradually depleting U.S. stockpiles of weapons, and dealing with the continued threat from China.

Pentagon, the Biden administration, and congressional leaders have continued to reiterate their unwavering support for Ukraine now 10 months into the country’s war with Russia. This will continue into 2023. The administration has provided Ukraine with nearly $20 billion in military aid alone since Russia invaded, while President Joe Biden has used his drawdown authority more than 25 times to provide Ukraine with weapons from U.S. stockpiles.

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The war in Ukraine has slowed in the winter months as conditions worsen for such maneuvers, though Russia began its invasion in the cold month of February. Ukraine has repeatedly defied expectations from various countries. Even the U.S. expected Russian forces would be able to topple the Kyiv government within weeks.

Russia’s latest war tactic has been to use Iranian-made Shahed drones to target Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. The monthslong campaign to attack their electrical grid has severely damaged their infrastructure and has resulted in blackouts for millions of civilians, forcing them to face the winter conditions without heat and drinking water.

The U.S. is finalizing plans to provide Ukraine with the Patriot missile defense system, which is designed to track and intercept incoming ballistic and cruise missiles and aircraft in the air. The Raytheon product is one of the most sophisticated air defense systems in the U.S. arsenal and it likely would be viewed as an escalation by Russian leaders. President Joe Biden’s decision was announced when Volodymyr Zelensky visited Washington, D.C., before Christmas.

The Defense Department has announced a multitude of contracts with different defense contractors for a number of the weapons they’ve provided to Ukraine.

The U.S. Army awarded a nearly $430,930,711 contract to Lockheed Martin to replenish the military’s stockpile of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) in early December, and the company also got a $520 million contract to replenish the U.S. stockpile of Guided Missile Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) weeks earlier.

“The Department continues to focus on accelerating contracting actions and providing a persistent demand signal to our partners in industry,” Dr. William A. LaPlante, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, said earlier this month. “This award is another example of the steps we are taking to replenish stockpiles and strengthen the industrial base.”

Congressional leaders have also emphasized the need to address the hit the war in Ukraine is taking on stockpiles once the new congress is sworn in early next year.

“The Ukrainian conflict has consumed a significant amount of our stored systems to be able to respond to Ukraine’s continued needs and consumption, backfill our needs, and then respond to our allies who now see that forward positioning of weapons really make a huge difference for the outcome in the initial days with conflict,” Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) told the Washington Examiner previously. “This is going to take significant investment to switch to a production mode for our industrial base.”

While the war in Ukraine and its effects remain in the forefront, DOD’s race with China is simmering in the background. The department released its highly anticipated national defense strategy in late October. It identified China as posing the “most comprehensive and serious challenge to U.S. national security” given the government’s “coercive and increasingly aggressive endeavor to refashion the Indo-Pacific region and the international system to suit its interests and authoritarian preferences,” whereas it characterizes Russia as “an acute threat.”

China has gotten more aggressive with its military maneuvers in the region, which coincides with Beijing’s longer-term plans to undergo significant military growth and development in the coming decades.

“First, an important element of the PRC’s strategy is a determined pursuit to amass and expand its national power to transform the international system to one that is more favorable to the PRC’s political governance system and national interests. China has aimed to expand its national power through domestic and foreign policy initiatives,” a senior U.S. defense official told reporters about the release of the China Military Power Report in late November. “Second, over the course of 2021, and evident in 2022, we have seen a trend of increasing PRC military coercion. The CMPR highlights that the PLA has adopted more dangerous, coercive, and aggressive actions in the Indo-Pacific region. PLA naval vessels and aircraft have exhibited a sharper increase in unsafe and unprofessional behavior in the Indo-Pacific region, including lasing, aerobatics, discharging objects, and activities that impinge upon the ability of nearby aircraft to maneuver safely.”

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The department may also face domestic hurdles as well, specifically from a Republican-led House of Representatives, many of whom have expressed concerns about the department. They have already gotten the repeal of the Pentagon’s coronavirus vaccine mandate in the National Defense Authorization Act.

“Next year, the new majority will be conducting robust oversight of these issues, and we will demand accountability from this administration,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), the presumed incoming House Armed Services Committee chairman, said earlier this month, per Military Times. “Americans are growing increasingly concerned with the direction of the military in recent years. DoD’s current political appointees are pushing questionable policies on our troops just to satisfy the ideological agenda of a minority of Americans.”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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