Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va, the ranking member of the Senate’s intelligence committee, called for a realignment of Pentagon spending priorities to boost cybersecurity and technology investments amid a “new era of nation-state conflict.”
While speaking Dec. 7 at the Center for a New American Security, Warner said the Pentagon should review its focus on conventional weapons systems after aggressive cyber operations by the Russian and Chinese governments.
“We need to realign our priorities while we still can” Warner said. “We need to redirect some of our DoD spending to cyber and, frankly, within other parts of our government, misinformation and disinformation.”
The Pentagon has a $8.5 billion budget for cybersecurity funding in fiscal 2019, according to the White House.
Warner’s comments come amid uncertainty in the Pentagon budget process. The White House Office of Management and Budget has ordered the Pentagon to cut its budget to $733 billion in FY 20, a cut of roughly $33 billion. Pentagon officials and some lawmakers are opposed to the cuts.
In his speech, Warner took aim at two countries for the rise of the nation-state conflict: Russia and China.
Russia devotes “a much greater portion of its much smaller budget to cyber and other tools of asymmetric warfare,” Warner said. When it comes to cyber, Russia is already America’s peer, Warner warned, and when it comes to disinformation and misinformation, Russia “is already ahead of us.”
What Russia spent on disinformation campaigns during the 2017 French and 2016 American elections as well as the 2016 British referendum to leave the European Union was less one F-35 fighter jet, Warner said.
“The notion that this is a one-off isn’t the case,” Warner said.
But in addition to Russia’s growing cyber capabilities, Warner said that China poses a threat because of its defense priorities.
While China spends an estimated $200 billion per year on its defense budget, Warner said the country spends a disproportionate amount on areas of asymmetric warfare.
“The frightening thing to me is the delta of what we spend on our defense budget and what China spends, that $500 million. China is investing in artificial intelligence, quantum computing and 5G and a whole host of other technologies where China wants to be our peer.”
Experts have warned the United States is too reliant on conventional capabilities.
“We are in a great place if we have to re-fight the Persian gulf war,” said Paul Scharre, senior fellow and director at the Center for a New American Security. “Russia doesn’t have to fight us in a military way and they can attack the central nervous system of American democracy,
Justin Lynch is the Associate Editor at Fifth Domain. He has written for the New Yorker, the Associated Press, Foreign Policy, the Atlantic, and others. Follow him on Twitter @just1nlynch.