The Pentagon’s top uniformed official said a reported plan from House Republican leadership to cap fiscal year 2024 discretionary spending at FY ‘22 levels would risk ‘significant’ program cuts at the Pentagon and potentially lead to more “aggressive moves” by adversaries.

Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cited the implications of potential spending cuts as well as operating under a year-long continuing resolution (CR) during a House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing on Thursday alongside senior Pentagon officials on the department’s fiscal year 2024 budget request. 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army Gen. Mark A. Milley testifies before the House Appropriations Committee-Defense on the Fiscal 2024 Department of Defense Budget in the Rayburn House Office Building, March 23, 2023, in Washington D.C. (DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Alexander Kubitza)

“In both cases we would have to cut a significant amount of programs,” Milley said. “Everything that’s been achieved over the last three, four, five, six years, seven years, all of that would start going in the opposite direction with continuing resolutions or if you went back previous budget’s [spending levels]. I think it would be very significant and the risk would increase with China with the wrong signal it would send.”

Milley’s testimony arrives after Mike McCord, the Pentagon’s comptroller, said recently that plans to cap FY ‘24 discretionary spending at FY ‘22 levels would lead to a nearly $100 billion topline reduction from the Pentagon’s proposed $842 billion budget and result in “extremely disruptive” program cuts (Defense Daily, March 20). 

McCord in his recent letter to Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) on the potential impacts of such cuts cited specific implications such as a 40 percent reduction in spending on nuclear modernization efforts and a $10 billion cut to Navy shipbuilding.

House Republican leaders have previously downplayed the potential for billions of dollars in defense spending cuts as part of the reported plan detailed during a January closed-door GOP Conference meeting to limit discretionary spending in FY ‘24 at FY ‘22 enacted levels (Defense Daily, Jan. 10).

“I’m deeply concerned about efforts to reduce our defense topline to previous years’ levels, especially as China increases its own military spending each year. If we don’t prioritize investing in our national security today, I fear we risk a much costlier fight with China down the road whenever that may be, whether it’s 2025, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years,” Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) said during Thursday’s hearing.

Along with the impact of rolling back defense spending levels, Ruppersberger also asked Milley how passing a budget a year late and having to operate under a year-long CR would impact the Pentagon.

“The other thing that would be cut is readiness. We know that if budgets aren’t passed on time, you can’t do multi-year contracts. You can’t lock in for industry the amount of ammunition, the amount of platforms you need, etc. And then for training and readiness, we’ve gone through this drill several times, we’ve got all kinds of analysis that shows that our training would be reduced significantly,” Milley said.

Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) also asked Milley how potential defense spending cuts would specifically impact joint force activities in the Indo-Pacific region.

Milley responded the Pentagon’s level of training and operational tempo would be reduced and would impact “day-to-day campaigning” efforts.

“If you reduce all that, you’re going to force us to reduce our op tempo, force us to do less Taiwan Strait transits, less freedom of navigation [movement], less patrolling of the air, less ISR. Everything will be less, which will increase risk, increase danger and send the wrong message. And the probable result will be an acceleration of what could be some sort of aggressive moves in the future by China or other countries,” Milley said.