WASHINGTON -- The $842 billion fiscal year 2024 budget request for the Defense Department is driven in large part by strategic competition with China, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said.
The budget also focuses, he said Tuesday, on furthering the department's three priorities: defending of the nation, taking care of service members and families and developing stronger relationships and cooperation with partners and allied nations.
"This is a strategy-driven budget — and one driven by the seriousness of our strategic competition with the People's Republic of China," Austin said during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. "At $842 billion, it's a 3.2 percent increase over [the] fiscal year 2023 enacted ... and it is 13.4 percent higher than [the] fiscal year 22 enacted. This budget will help us continue to implement our National Defense Strategy and the president's National Security Strategy."
With China as a pacing challenge, Austin said, investment in the Indo-Pacific region is a big part of the FY 2024 budget. In the Pacific, he said, the department is investing in a more resilient force posture and is also increasing the size and complexity of exercises with partner nations there.
The FY 2024 budget request also includes a 40% increase for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative. This year's $9.1 billion request for the PDI — the largest ever — funds a stronger force posture, better defenses for Hawaii and Guam, and deeper cooperation with allies and partners there, Austin said.
Also in the Pacific, Austin said, the department is forward-stationing and deploying more forces, while also investing in airfields, logistics, domain awareness and resilience in places like Japan, Australia, Guam and the sovereign states involved in the Compact of Free Association.
The FY 2024 budget request, Austin said, also marks the department's largest investment in research and development. This year, the request for R&D efforts stands at $145 billion.
The department is also requesting some $170 billion for procurement to maintain the nation's air, sea and land dominance. About $61 billion funds things like the newly revealed B-21 Raider, for instance, while $48 billion supports construction of nine battle force ships for the U.S. Navy, he said.
"We'll also continue to modernize all three legs of our nuclear triad ... and bolster our strategic deterrence," Austin told senators.
The FY 2024 request includes $37.7 billion to fund the nuclear triad, along with nuclear command, control, and communications.
Just six months ago, Austin signed a memorandum outlining plans to take better care of service member and their families. That memorandum discussed efforts to, among other things, make military moves easier, help military spouses find employment, and ease the burden associated with the cost of child care.
The most recent budget request continues that effort to take care of military personnel and their families, Austin said.
"We're going to remain the strongest military in the world," Austin said. "As we mark the 50th anniversary of our all-volunteer force, I'm enormously proud of the brave men and women who choose to wear the cloth of our nation. We owe it to them and to their families to take the best possible care of all of our people."
This year's budget request funds an increase in housing allowances, improvements to military housing, continued efforts to make child care more affordable, and the launch of universal prekindergarten at Department of Defense Education Activity schools.
The secretary also said the budget request supports the department's efforts to curb suicides and sexual assaults.
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"We're also pushing hard to help eliminate suicide in our ranks ... including immediate steps to hire more mental health professionals and improve access to mental health care," Austin said. "Meanwhile, we're working toward a military that's free of sexual assault. We worked with Congress to improve the response of sexual assault and related crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. And those reforms will be fully implemented by the end of this year. And the department is also investing in a specialized workforce to combat sexual assault, harassment, suicide and more."
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The U.S. military doesn't fight alone, so relationships with allied and partner nations are also a focus of the FY 2024 budget request, Austin said, highlighting efforts in both Asia and Europe.
"In recent months, our friends in the Indo-Pacific have taken major steps forward," Austin said. "The Philippines has agreed to nearly double the number of sites where we cooperate together. Japan has committed to double its defense spending. And through the historic AUKUS [Australia, United Kingdom, United States] partnership, we'll work with our Australian and British allies to build game-changing defense advantages that will deter aggression and boost our defense industrial capacity."
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In Europe, as part of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, Austin has rallied support of some 50 nations to help Ukraine. Already, partners there have committed nearly $20 billion in support. The U.S. itself has committed more than $32.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine. As a result of Russia's invasion or Ukraine, Austin said, the NATO alliance is stronger than ever.
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"Mr. Chairman, this is the budget that will meet this moment. And I'd respectfully ask for your support," Austin said. "The single most effective way that this committee can support the department and our outstanding troops is with an on-time, full-year appropriation. I look forward to working with you all so that we can continue to defend our democracy and support the forces of freedom in this hour of challenge."