Powerful GOP senator eyes ships, jets, nukes in defense spending surge

Powerful GOP senator eyes ships, jets, nukes in defense spending surge

The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee has released a detailed plan calling for an additional $55 billion above the fiscal 2025 defense spending caps imposed under last year’s debt ceiling deal.

The plan, unveiled Wednesday by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., would ultimately raise U.S. defense spending from 3% to 5% of gross domestic product in the years ahead, a massive surge likely to come in well above $1 trillion per year.

Much of the proposed long-term spending in Wicker’s plan would go toward revitalizing the struggling defense-industrial base, which the senator argues is necessary to successfully counter an “axis of aggressors” comprised of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.

He hopes additional industrial base funding will enable the U.S. to drastically bolster the size of its Navy and Air Force fleets as well as munitions production and the nuclear arsenal.

“This will enable the United States to fix our failing defense infrastructure, field a new generation of equipment and maintain American technological leadership,” Wicker wrote in the proposal. “This [3%] of GDP spent on defense is nearing historic lows not seen since the peace dividend of the 1990s.”

The document lays out many of Wicker’s short- and long-term priorities as the Senate Armed Services Committee prepares to mark up its FY25 defense policy bill next month. The House Armed Services Committee advanced its defense policy legislation last week, an $883.7 billion bill in line with the FY25 defense spending caps lawmakers agreed to last year.

Some of the additional $55 billion Wicker seeks to add above the FY25 spending caps mirrors the unfunded priorities lists each military service and combatant command submitted to Congress earlier this year.

For instance, Wicker wants an additional $2 billion to “disperse and harden [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command] infrastructure,” another $2.25 billion for “Guam disaster recovery and resilient rebuild,” and $500 million for a Guam defense system.

Additionally, Wicker is seeking $500 million to create “regional contingency stockpiles” to help Indo-Pacific Command overcome logistical challenges in the event of a conflict in the area.

“Prepositioned stocks generally must be expanded in the western Pacific,” the document notes. “In particular, the Army Prepositioned Stocks program has been perennially underfunded — by almost $1 billion this year.”

Wicker’s proposal also calls on the Pentagon to create a weapons stockpile in Taiwan, which Congress authorized in the FY23 defense bill, mirroring the U.S. war reserve stockpile in Israel.

It also seeks to allocate $1.5 billion in replenishment funds to allow the Defense Department to send Taiwan weapons from U.S. stockpiles. The foreign aid bill Congress passed in April included $1.9 billion in FY24 funding for the department to do this, but the House defense policy bill did not include an additional $500 million in FY25 Taiwan aid that the Pentagon asked for as part of its proposed Indo-Pacific Security Initiative.

Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, lead the defense appropriations panel and have also said they want to increase FY25 defense spending above the debt ceiling deal’s FY25 spending caps.

But Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said earlier this month that if defense spending rises, she will insist that nondefense spending also grow, which Republicans have historically opposed.

Total defense spending for FY24 came in at $953 billion following passage of the foreign aid bill, well above the $886 billion national security caps Congress laid out in the base budget for that fiscal year.

The 5% target

Over the longer term, Wicker’s proposal to increase defense spending to 5% of GDP places particular emphasis on growing the defense-industrial base.

“The defense industrial base itself is a weapon,” the proposal states. “The Department of Defense needs a much larger and more capable workforce for defense industrial base issues.”

“For surface ships, the Navy needs to embark immediately upon a comprehensive industrial base investment strategy, just as it has done for the submarine industrial base,” it continues. “As with the submarine industrial base, this investment strategy will require around $20 billion over a period of five years.”

These funds would go toward “extensive funding for workforce development, supply chain resiliency, long-lead item production, development and insertion of additive manufacturing techniques, supplier base diversification and shipyard modernization and expansion.”

Wicker also calls on the Navy to “begin work on a fifth nuclear shipyard, which will likely cost over $20 billion.”

The document faults the Navy for failing “to provide a consistent demand signal to industry” but argues that with the right funding it can meet and even exceed the 355-ship goal by 2035.

Similarly, it notes “the Air Force plans to retire almost 1,000 aircraft over the next five years, including nearly 400 fighters.”

“It has not replaced its aircraft fast enough to keep the fleet from shrinking precipitously, even as the mission demands remain steady or increase,” it reads.

Accordingly, Wicker’s proposal calls on the Air Force to purchase “at least 340″ aircraft above its current plan over the next five years while accelerating production of B-21 bombers and doubling its planned quantity from 100 to 200.

“The Air Force should aim to arrest its shrinking fighter force structure by reversing its plans to retire capable F-15E and F-22 fighters over the next five years and by purchasing at least 340 aircraft above its current plans over the next five years,” the proposal notes.

Additionally, the document cites “a well-known shortage of munitions that will require both additional funding and additional creativity to remedy.” It calls for an additional $7 billion to $10 billion annually for the munitions-industrial base over the next decade.

The document also details a series of industrial base recommendations to grow the U.S. nuclear arsenal. These include extended production of the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine; setting up NATO-style nuclear burden-sharing agreements with Australia, Japan and South Korea; and restoring nuclear capability on B-52 bombers.

Wicker has also co-sponsored a bill to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The legislation’s other sponsor, Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., hopes to include it in the Senate’s FY25 defense policy bill.

Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.

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