The US$886 billion defence spending policy for fiscal year 2024 authorises US$9.7 billion to expand the Pacific Deterrence Initiative which seeks to enhance the United States’ defence posture in the Indo-Pacific region where it faces a rabid military competition with China.
The amount represents an increase of $600 million over President Biden’s budget request, according to Rep, Ed Case of Hawaii.
The 2024 National Defence Authorisation Act, which was passed by the U.S House of Representatives last week, includes US$500 million for the continuing development of a missile defense system for Guam.
Last year, the Missile Defence Agency awarded a US$527.7 million contract to Lockheed Martin to develop Guam’s air and ground missile defence system, which is anticipated to be delivered in 2024.
According to MDA’s 28 December announcement, an initial obligation of US$11.4 million will tap the fiscal year 2023 appropriation for research, development, testing and evaluation.
“The Pacific Deterrence Initiative is an instrumental part of our nation’s integrated deterrence in the Indo-Pacific and highlights key elements and investments needed to maintain our competitive advantage and lays the foundation that will be indispensable to our efforts for decades to come,” Case said, noting that Hawaii plays a central role in the national defenCe strategy in the region.
According to the Department of Defence’s budget proposal, the investments under the initiative support the military’s effort “to prioritise China as its preeminent pacing challenge.” Its goal is to “develop capabilities, operational concepts, and planning to strengthen deterrence” against the People’s Liberation Army.
For Hawaii, the bill authorises more than US$1.5 billion in military construction projects, including Case’s request for an additional US$5.4 million to begin the construction of a new air traffic control tower at Wheeler Army Airfield as the existing control tower no longer meets the current operational and safety requirements for airfield operations.
“The value of this project extends beyond the critical operations of Wheeler Army Airfield to the local community and the Island of O‘ahu,” Case said. “This tower also monitors and supports surrounding commercial and recreational airspace operations to ensure smooth transitions in and around the airspace associated with the installation.”
The bill includes a 5.2 percent pay raise for defenCe employees in addition to a monthly bonus for junior enlisted service members and restores basic allowance for housing levels to 100 percent. The housing allowance has been taken out of the calculation of the basic needs allowance.
The bill also authorises US$50 million to assist local schools with military dependent students and US$20 million for local educational agencies that support eligible children with severe disabilities.
However, Case has reservations about the bill’s final version.
“I could not support the overall measure in its final form as proposed for full House passage,” Case said.
“Unfortunately, and even tragically, as the annual NDAA has been one of the last bastions of nonpartisanship in a divided Congress, the majority chose to adopt poison pill amendments on national culture war issueswhich have no place in our nationaldefense and in a bill which should be focused on national security matters. I sincerely hope those provisions are removed along the further progress of this otherwise- worthy bill and that I can vote yes on final passage.”
Washington is proposing to provide military training to young civilians in Pacific island countries amid growing geopolitical tension in the region.
Developing “young civilian defence leaders” in the Pacific islands is among the amendment provisions in the 2024 National Defence Authorisation Act passed last week by the U.S House of Representatives.
The current federal law authorises the Secretary of Defence to establish a pilot programme “to enhance engagement of the department with young civilian defence and security leaders in the Indo-Pacific region.”
The programme, targeting people who are 40 years old or younger, is designed to build “the capacity of young civilian leaders in foreign partner ministries of defense to promote civilian control of the military, respect for human rights, and adherence to the law of armed conflict.”
The defence department was required to design the pilot programme by 01 June of this year. There is currently no available information related to the status of the pilot programme, which is scheduled to be terminated on 31 December 2026.
Currently, the programme applies to countries with which the U.S has defence partnerships.
According to the Office of Rep. Ed Case of Hawaii, the NDAA 2024 includes a provision to expand the pilot programme “to also include civilians working for ministries with a security mission so that Pacific island countries without militaries can participate.”
The United States is ramping up its engagement with Pacific island countries to counter China’s growing influence in the region. The Pentagon dubbed China “the most consequential and systemic challenge” in the Indo-Pacific.
While describing the House version of the NDAA as “fatally flawed on key national issues,” Case said the proposed defense spending policy would strengthen the United States’s national defense in the Indo-Pacific and improve the defense department’s relationship with the local communities.
The House version of the NDAA 2024 also directs the Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs “to assess and develop plans for Civic Action Teams in the Pacific islands.
Currently, the military has a CAT stationed in Palau working on community projects, apprenticeship training, vehicle maintenance, medical support and construction.
According to Indo-Pacific Command, the first CAT to deploy to Palau in 1970 was a Navy Seabee team. Later, the Air Force and Army replaced the Navy on rotations.
CATs from all three branches assisted communities in the freely associated states until the programs for the Federation States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands shut down in 2003.
According to a statement from Case’s office, the NDAA also addresses various critical Indo-Pacific priorities, including:
*US$360 million to address unfunded priorities from U.S Indo-Pacific Command that were not included in the President’s budget.
*US$7.1 billion for two Virginia-class attack submarines, which are critical for the Indo-Pacific and can be stationed and maintained at Pearl Harbour.
*US$225 million to accelerate the Glide PhaseInterceptor programme to defend against hypersonic threats.
*US$63 million for hypersonics-related research and development across multiple military programmes.
*Authorising U.S Special Operations Forces to continue training Taiwan and other partner nations in resisting the aggression and malign influence from China.
*Expressing a sense of Congress that the United States should reinforce its alliance with the Republic of Korea.
*A study on health care availability for servicemembers, DoD civilians and their families supporting missions in Japan and Joint Region Marianas.
SOURCE: PACIFIC ISLAND TIMES/PACNEWS