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Senator Collins Presses Top Defense Officials on China’s Military Capabilities

Senator Collins: “We need to be urgently investing in our shipbuilding capacity and fleet, not going in the opposite direction.”

Click HERE to watch Sen. Collins’ Q&A with Secretary Austin. 

Click HERE to watch Sen. Collins’ Q&A with General Milley. 


Washington, D.C. – At a Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing reviewing the President’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget proposal, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, pressed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley on China’s military capabilities and how the United States is preparing to counter any potential future threats. 


Senator Collins expressed concern that the Department’s budget proposal significantly reduces defense spending for the second year in a row amid Europe’s largest land war since World War II, the 40-year inflation high, and China’s aggressive military modernization.


Senator Collins asked, “If you look at the services and the combatant command's unfunded priorities list that they've submitted, they amount to more than $21 billion. What are the areas in the budget where the Department is accepting the most risk?”


Secretary Austin responded, “We believe that [the $773 billion budget] gives us the ability to go after those capabilities that support our warfighting concepts. And in that strategy, Senator, China is listed as our pacing challenge. And Russia is cited as an acute threat. And again, we believe that we're going after the right thing to ensure that we maintain a competitive edge going forward. When we built the budget, obviously, you have to snap the chalk line at some point while you're building the budget. And at that point, you know, we factored in what was the appropriate inflation rate. Of course, again, if we're unable to buy the things that we think are essential, we'll come back to the President and ask for more assistance, but we believe that there is significant capability in this budget.”


Senator Collins continued by asking General Milley about China’s plan to develop the military capabilities to seize Taiwan by 2027. During that critical window, the U.S. Navy’s fleet would shrink to 280 ships in fiscal year 2027 according to the administration’s budget request, compared to a Chinese fleet that the Pentagon projects would be as large as 420 ships by 2025 and 460 ships by 2030.


Sen. Collins said: “I appreciate the point that you've made that many of our ships are more capable than China's, but as you and virtually everyone I've ever talked to in the Navy has told me, quantity has a quality all of its own. We need to be urgently investing in our shipbuilding capacity and fleet, not going in the opposite direction. There's real risk in relying on capabilities that won't be ready until the 2030s to deter or defeat a Chinese threat that may materialize in the next five years. From my perspective, our current shipbuilding trajectory is inconsistent with the Navy's fleet architecture studies done by both the prior Administrations and this Administration. Are you concerned that the strategy and that this budget is inconsistent with the multiple assessments saying that we need a larger fleet”


General Milley responded: “I personally don't want to get hung up on the number of ships for China versus the United States. Its true quality is a quantity all its own, but we have allies and partners, China doesn't. The Japanese Navy, the Australian Navy, the other allies and partners that would probably work with the United States. We exercise routinely with them. That would make a significant difference. The other last thing I'd make on relative to Taiwan: it is true that Taiwan or the Chinese President, Xi, has set an objective to have his military prepared capability wise. That's not the same to say he's actually going to invade, but to have the capability to seize the island of Taiwan. That is a very tall order, and it remains to be seen whether the Chinese will actually be able to execute that, the Chinese military, whether they will have that capability or not, but that is the target on the wall, 2027. We have to keep that in mind as we go into the future.”