May 07, 2020
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, questioned witnesses today at a committee hearing to consider three Department of Defense nominations.
Witnesses included: Ambassador Kenneth Braithwaite to be Secretary of the Navy; General Charles Brown to be Chief of Staff of the Air Force; and Dr. James Anderson to be Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.
Inhofe: We’ll start off again with you, Ambassador Braithwaite. It’s been very controversial, and just very briefly: When you think about the fact that the budget that’s been submitted would be to support a 300-ship Navy, and I think most people agree it needs to be bigger than that – you hear about 355 – very briefly, what size a Navy do you think we ought to have?
Braithwaite: Sir, it needs to be minimally 355 ships. Hopefully we build beyond that.
Inhofe: That’s a good, brief answer. I appreciate that. I won’t ask why because I agree with you. General Brown, you brought this up, and I really appreciate the fact that you’re talking about the [National Defense Strategy]. This is the plan that we’ve been following now since it came out, and that was three years ago. So General Goldfein was committed to that. I’d like to have you make a further comment, even though you’ve already made one about this, in your commitment to following this as your pattern.
Brown: Senator Inhofe, Chairman, I’m actually very committed to the National Defense Strategy. In my current position as the Pacific Air Forces Commander, it’s been a lot of focus because four of the five challenges in the National Defense Strategy are in our region.
Inhofe: Appreciate it very much. Dr. Anderson, I’ve talked to you about this before. This is something that I’ve been concerned about in fact. We went through all those years without having an AFRICOM – it was kind of the forgotten continent. Now we see that those things that we were guessing that were going to be happening, they are happening or already happened. I would like to – we’re looking right now at what China or Russia is doing in that continent. In fact, China, that’s the first time that they’ve actually started a major installation someplace other than their own city limits. So we know what’s happening there. I’d like to have you say in this remaining time that I have your thoughts about the role of AFRICMO and what your intentions are and what your feelings are concerning that continent and its problems.
Anderson: Thank you, Senator. AFRICOM, as you noted, was established a few years ago, just over I believe a decade ago, and plays an important role in our National Defense Strategy. It is complicated, of course, by the intrusion of the PRC and also to an extent the Russian Federation on the continent. Those moves by the Chinese take a variety of different forms, to include establishing a military base its first overseas military base in Djibouti so we are watching that very carefully, as well as a lot of their efforts elsewhere on the continent, to include all the sort of predatory economic things that they are doing trying to insert their workers there and exploit local economics and make economies dependent upon them economically and financially. We are vigilant, and we are watching very closely what our competitors are doing on the continent. Of course, Russia is very involved in the Libyan conflict, and it’s a very unfortunate situation there. The Department of Defense is looking very closely at all its combatant commands, to include AFRICOM, to ensure that we have the right mix of forces, the right posture throughout the continent. Under Secretary Esper’s leadership, we’re doing exactly that, and this is an effort at right-sizing our forces there. There have been some press reports that we are cutting and running, that we are abandoning Africa, and those are flatly false. We’re looking hard at right-sizing and making those decisions. One decision that Secretary Esper has made is allocate the SFAB, the Security Force Assistance Brigade, to AFRICOM, which we think is a good example of getting the right forces into theater.
Inhofe: Well, yeah, you’re right that they came in, and there has to be an examination, a constant examination, on the placement of the troops around the world. It happened that Sen. Rounds and I were in Africa when it was rumored that the decision had been made by the administration to reduce there, and obviously, that was not accurate. In fact our secretary actually came forth and said that’s a place where we cannot do that, and so I think that – my question to you is do you agree with the secretary on the continent of Africa?
Anderson: Yes, I agree with Secretary Esper. He is taking a hard look at this. He has not made any final decisions, but I would expect those will be forthcoming. Another part of this effort is we are working closely with allies and partners, and we certainly encourage our European allies, for example, to assume a greater role on the African continent because they certainly have interests there as well.
Inhofe: That’s good.