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After increasing the Department of Defense (DoD) budget in real terms during seven of the past eight fiscal years, Congress has now pivoted toward restraining spending by passing the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023. Approved in early June as part of the debt ceiling deal, the law imposes a liberating limit on defense. It unshackles defense spending from parity with nondefense spending but still caps military budgets at or near current spending levels for the next two fiscal years while brandishing the threat of a lowered defense cap and potential sequestration if Congress delays in passing full-year appropriations for any budget account.
Weapons do not conduct military operations in isolation from one another, and yet the U.S. defense community devotes considerable attention each year to individual platforms. The time spent appraising specific weapons is understandable, given the huge investments and cutthroat politics surrounding these projects, not to mention the defense budget boiling everything down to line items, but is misplaced in a strategic context.
In May 2022, the “Quad” nations — the United States, Australia, Japan, and India — announced the creation of the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) to monitor illegal fishing, humanitarian crises, maritime security, marine conservation, and related issues in the region. IPMDA’s most significant activity involves disseminating unclassified data collected by commercial satellites to improve the common operating picture of participating nations and bolster information sharing across regional fusion centers, including in India, Singapore, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.
The United States' (U.S.) provision of weapons to Ukraine over the last year has raised critical questions about the overall supply of Western munitions and the ability of the weapon industrial base to meet the munitions demands of contemporary conflict. Although war in Ukraine has focused the world’s attention on the munitions issue, a survey of previous U.S. strike operations reveals that the U.S. has struggled to meet PGM demands in nearly every major campaign undertaken since their adoption. Looking to the future, simply producing and procuring more PGMs may not be enough to satisfy the requirements of a near-term great power conflict given current fiscal, industrial, and political constraints.
In the long-term competition between the United States and China, the competitive edge will be decided not only by who more effectively fields current capabilities and strategies, but also by which state's techno-security system can most effectively develop and field new technologies for strategic, dual-use, and defense applications. Although both states recognize the need to prevail in the techno-security competition, the two have drastically different approaches to defense innovation and defense industrial policy.
Today, states are pursuing an array of supposedly "disruptive" or "game-changing" technologies that could alter how they organize, train, equip, and employ their forces, including their nuclear forces. The 2022 National Defense Strategy emphasized the link between some of these technologies and the risk of nuclear use, noting that "a wide range of new or fast-evolving technologies and applications are complicating escalation dynamics and creating new challenges for strategic stability."