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March 23, 2021

ICYMI: SASC Ranking Member Inhofe Emphasizes Importance of Deterring China's Use of Military Force at Nomination Hearing for INDOPACOM Commander

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), today delivered opening remarks at a SASC hearing on the nomination of Admiral John C. Aquilino, USN, to serve as Commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command. 

As Prepared For Delivery: 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. 

Admiral Aquilino, we thank you for your decades of service, and for your leadership in the Department of Defense’s priority theater as the commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet.  And we thank your wife – Mrs. Laura Anne Aquilino and your daughter Ms. Jessica Marie Aquilino for their years of support to you and service to the country as well.  

With over 1,150 carrier-arrested landings and 5,100 hours of flying time, it appears you’ve spent not only a lot of time at sea, but also a lot of time in the air.

Secretary Austin and Deputy Secretary Hicks said China is the “pacing threat” for our military, and General Milley said the Pacific “is the number 1 regional priority.”

This administration is saying the right things about pushing back on Chinese aggression. 

But the key indicator of whether they are serious about competition with China will be what they do with the Defense budget topline. Without real growth, the words don’t have real meaning. 

The topline of the Defense budget and the amount of funding for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative will be the Biden administration’s first, and most important, message to China. 

What we do or don’t do to deter China in the military domain will underwrite and determine the success — or failure — of diplomatic, economic, and information efforts as well. 

Simply put, if you fail to invest in defense, and as a result you fail to deter China’s use of military force in the Indo-Pacific—nothing you do in those other areas will matter.

Admiral Aquilino, if confirmed as commander of INDOPACOM, you’d be on the front lines of military competition with China. 

There must never come a day when the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party decide today is the day they can achieve their goals using military force.

At the beginning of March, General McMaster told us that since the 1990s, China has undertaken “the largest peacetime military buildup in history.”

This ramped up in the past decade, when China increased real purchasing power in the defense sector by $200 billion. Meanwhile, primarily during the Obama administration, America cut $400 billion of purchasing power from our defense spending.

As China was quietly increasing investment in defense, many U.S. leaders naively assumed when China joined the WTO in 2001 and was integrated in the global economy, somehow this would make the Chinese Communist Party friendlier and more open to the West.

I predicted that wouldn’t be the case—and I was right. I wish it wasn’t true, but it is. 

The result of that bad assumption is America’s military advantage and the credibility of our deterrent has eroded and continues to erode. 

Admiral Davidson painted a very clear picture of where we stand now when he testified before this committee on March 9. He said, quote: “I think our conventional deterrent is actually eroding in the region.”

He’s right. And this moves us closer to the risk of war.

That’s exactly why Chairman Reed and I put together the Pacific Deterrence Initiative–or PDI–into last year’s NDAA—to stop aggression from the Chinese Communist Party.

We know we need advanced capabilities like hypersonics, AI, biotech, and quantum computing.  China is ahead of us in many of these areas because they continue to spend more money on these efforts.

It’s also clear we need the right posture to ensure our forces can be in the right place, at the right time, with the right stuff—this is what PDI was designed to accomplish.

Admiral Aquilino, one area I would like to get your thoughts on today is the need you see in INDOPACOM for a 5th generation fighter, the F-35. Some Members of Congress are casting doubt on the importance of this platform, and I’d like your expert opinion as a fighter pilot.

Admiral Davidson testified two weeks ago that: “the F-35 and F-22 are critical to any future fight we might have in the theater…Our adversaries are already developing or fielding 5th generation fighters and we know from our own gaming and emulations that 5th generation fighters are a game-changer."

I remember when I thought the Cold War was dangerous and complex.  But it’s clear we’re in the most threatened position I’ve seen in my lifetime — especially in the Indo-Pacific. 

As General McMaster told us “Taiwan may represent the most dangerous flashpoint for war.” And when Admiral Davidson was asked what the most likely target of Chinese military action would be in the next five to 10 years, he said: “I would say Taiwan is the first.”

Admiral Aquilino, we must win this competition for the security of our children and grandchildren. I look forward to hearing from you about regaining the advantage and winning the competition in the Indo-Pacific. Senator Reed. 

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