WASHINGTON, June 23, 2021 — United States Representative Mike Johnson (LA-04) today discussed a range of issues of major significance to Barksdale Air Force Base and Fort Polk with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley at the House Armed Services Committee hearing on the FY22 Department of Defense budget request.
“We recognize, of course, that you’re operating under certain constraints, but it’s alarming to many of us that the President is spending with reckless abandon in virtually every area except our national defense,” Johnson said. “Our current era of strategic competition makes it all the more important that the U.S. recommit to the longstanding principle of ‘Peace through Strength,’ especially as our key adversaries continue to take meaningful steps to close the gap between us and them.”
Congressman Johnson went on to discuss the schedule for the Defense Department’s ongoing nuclear modernization efforts with Secretary Austin, and the construction of a new Weapons General Facility at Barksdale and new Joint Operations Center at Fort Polk with General Milley.
Watch Congressman Johnson’s remarks at the hearing this afternoon or read the transcript below.
Congressman Johnson: Secretary Austin, General Milley, thank you for being here today. Many of my colleagues have expressed concern with the topline amount for this year’s budget request. And I just want to echo those concerns.
We recognize, of course, that you’re operating under certain constraints, but it’s alarming to many of us that the President is spending with reckless abandon in virtually every area except our national defense. Our current era of strategic competition makes it all the more important that the U.S. recommit to the longstanding principle of “Peace through Strength,” especially as our key adversaries continue to take meaningful steps to close the gap between us and them.
Secretary Austin, this brings me to a question for you. In your confirmation hearing when asked to commit to the current schedule for nuclear modernization efforts, you told Senator Fischer (R-NE) that you’d like to look under the hood first and get a better feel for what we’re dealing with with our nuclear forces. I know this has been covered a bit today, some of us are in and out for other hearings, but just to be sure, you’ve been on the job now six months. Can you commit now to nuclear modernization being a top priority for DOD?
Secretary Austin: You may have heard me say a number of times that modernization of our triad is absolutely important to us. What I meant by looking under the hood though, is making sure that we go through a new posture review to ensure that we have the right balance and mix of forces.
Johnson: Staying on that subject, our next generation ICBM — the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent — was a system approved by President Obama in 2015. It was fully funded by President Trump, it was funded in President Biden’s FY22 budget request at $2.6 billion. And since you were confirmed as Secretary of Defense, we’ve learned that the GBSD will be almost $38 billion cheaper than any Minuteman III life extension. It will also be a much more capable system able to better penetrate Russian and Chinese defense systems. Do you fully support President Biden’s FY2022 budget request for the GBSD and agree it is the future of the land leg of the triad?
Austin: I fully support the President’s budget. I would further say that the GBSD is one of those things that we’ll continue to evaluate, along with the posture reviews that we have ongoing.
Johnson: And am I correct in stating that the GBSD is on track, on schedule, on budget for the first flight test in 2023?
Austin: You are.
Johnson: Another item we were pleased to see in the budget is a request to construct a Weapons Generation Facility at Barksdale Air Force Base. And that construction will allow our B52s that are stationed there to carry out their nuclear mission without having to fly first from Louisiana to North Dakota in order to be loaded with nuclear ordinance. Secretary Austin or General Milley, can you comment on the strategic flexibility the Barksdale WGF will provide in making sure the air leg of the triad is capable of fully executing its mission?
General Milley: The triad and recapitalization of the triad is critically important. It’s been in effect for going on seven decades since the end of WWII. And you can ever prove a negative, but it is clearly one of the fundamental reasons why World War III didn’t break out was because of the nuclear capabilities of the United States.
It is time now to recapitalize the entire thing, all three parts of it, plus the command and control piece. That is critical to defend this nation for the next seven decades. And the time is now to invest in it. It’ll be a one-time thing for a period of years until we get the system replaced. But it’s really important in all legs to include that at Barksdale, with the B52s and the soon to be the B21s etc., are really critically important to do that.
Johnson: Those efficiencies, I think will help in those overall goals. The last thing I’ll touch on is the noticeable reduction in Army accounts in the budget requests. I understand that’s a reflection of the Afghanistan drawdown, but as we transition our focus to other parts of the world, I do think it’s important that we not allow Army readiness to decline. I know you all agree with that, we still need to execute rotations to our training centers.
And to that end, I appreciate the budget requesting a new Joint Operations Center at Fort Polk. The current JOC is decades overdue for an upgrade and a new facility will make sure our soldiers are equipped with the best possible training and experience, so they’re at the ready if and when they’re called upon. In the 40 seconds I have remaining, would one of you comment on the importance of that Army readiness and where we stand on that?
Milley: I would say as former Chief of Staff to the Army, the readiness of the Army is critical. It takes a full joint force synergy of air, land, sea, space and cyber to prevail in combat. And wars are often started from afar, from long range weapon systems, but they’re always ended somewhere on the ground. And the last bullet of a war is usually fired by a Marine or Army infantryman. So, it’s critical to maintain the readiness of the United States Army.
Johnson: Hopefully we can host you at Fort Polk sometime soon. I’d love to see you there.
Austin: We’ve been hosted there quite a bit, and I would say that it’s a pretty valuable capability.
Congressman Johnson is Vice Chairman of the House Republican Conference and a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. His district includes Barksdale Air Force Base and the Army’s Joint Readiness Training Center at Ft. Polk.