WASHINGTON — U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is asking Congress for a $3.5 billion plus-up over the president’s budget request as it seeks to bolster its presence in the region to deter China.
The command’s wish list is the largest request on the unfunded priorities lists of six combatant commands obtained by Defense News.
Africa Command came in a distant second at $397.8 million for its unfunded priorities list, which is largely devoted to developing a “persistent presence” in Somalia.
The $376.7 million Northern Command wish list asks for several key upgrades to the air defense architecture of North American Aerospace Defense Command. A significant portion of the $278.3 million list for Southern Command, which oversees U.S. forces in Latin America, is also allocated for air defenses.
European Command’s $159.5 million list also includes more cash to upgrade its bases against missile threats, while Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in the Greater Middle East, cites the threat of Iranian drones in its $280 million unfunded priorities list.
The total of those five commands amounts to less than half of Indo-Pacific Command’s unfunded priorities list, highlighting the Defense Department’s attempt to bolster its hard power in the region. The U.S. is expanding its troop presence and military cooperation with China’s neighbors, including a new basing agreement with the Philippines. The Pentagon also hopes to take its large cluster of forces in Northeast Asia and make them more diffuse throughout the region, placing more troops closer to Taiwan.
The largest chunk of Indo-Pacific Command’s unfunded priorities list asks Congress to allocate an extra $511 million for regional campaigning “to quickly mass forces multiple times a year as part of a synchronized set of operations, activities and investments.”
The command is seeking $117 million beyond President Joe Biden’s base budget for international security cooperation programs, such as training and equipping U.S. partners in the region and Maritime Security Initiative authorities. There’s also $49 million for a joint training team, $25.5 million for Joint Task Force Micronesia and another $9 million for Joint Task Force Indo-Pacific. It’s also seeking another $147 million to upgrade missile defenses in Guam.
Notably, about $357 million in the request would go toward the extended-range Standard Missile-6, an item identified as a high-priority munition by the White House, the Defense Department and lawmakers alike. Of that request, $277 million is for research and development, and $79.8 million for procuring the SM-6.
Biden’s base budget request would max out production lines for the missile.
The Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Republican, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, identified the SM-6 as a high-priority munition on the Senate floor in March. The White House issued a fact sheet on Friday arguing that a budget proposal from the conservative House Freedom Caucus would harm defense acquisitions, which also mentioned the missile.
An extensive portion of Indo-Pacific Command’s unfunded priority list also goes toward other munitions, including $493 million for the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile and $151 million for the Precision Strike Missile.
The list does not specifically ask for additional funding for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, despite a $6 billion gap between the $15 billion that Indo-Pacific Command said it needed for that account in a congressionally mandated report to Congress and the $9 billion the Biden administration asked for in its base budget request.
The military combatant commands and services are required to submit unfunded priorities lists to Congress, and lawmakers often fund their request despite pushback from some members who argue they inflate the defense spending top line and that many of the additional asks should be part of the base budget request.
Other wish lists
Africa Command leader Gen. Michael Langley argued that the resources he’s seeking in his unfunded priority request would provide for “a lodgment in Somalia” meant to “degrade the growing threat from Al Shabaab, assure freedom of navigation through the Bab Al Mandab sea-lane chokepoint and monitor the expanding Chinese presence in Djibouti.”
Northern Command’s wish list asks for $212 million for 3D expeditionary long-range radars “to fill surveillance gaps caused by existing radar failures;” $55 million in over-the-horizon capability acceleration; and $27 million for the ARCHER sensor in Alaska to advance air domain awareness capabilities.
Lawmakers expressed a renewed interest in modernizing North American Aerospace Defense Command’s air defense infrastructure with Canada — a multibillion-dollar effort — and voiced concerns about capability gaps after a Chinese surveillance balloon traversed the continental United States several weeks ago.
Biden met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on Thursday to urge the northern neighbor to upgrade its NORAD sensors. The command is a joint effort between the two countries.
European Command’s list also asks for $78 million in air defense for its bases amid U.S. efforts to arm Ukraine against Russia’s invasion. The document argues that the bases “will have limited options to mitigate the strategic air and missile attack threat” without those funds.
A large portion of the $278 million wish list for Southern Command also goes toward addressing domain awareness gaps in air defenses.
Central Command’s additional funding request included $14.7 million for tactical electronic surveillance systems to help detect Iranian drones. But the bulk of that request consists of $125 million for the pre-positioned stockpile of materiel in the Middle East.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.