The Pentagon’s second-highest ranking civilian today offered a new, sharper focus on funding software and munitions programs over more traditional large platforms in the upcoming 2022 budget request, marking the start of what could be a significant shift in how Washington views and manages military modernization.

“Platforms will always matter, but it’s the software…it’s the munitions, it’s those pieces that make such a critical difference in our capability,” Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said at the Aspen Security Forum, adding, “that’s a different funding picture” from what has traditionally been the case.

While the 2023 budget next year will be the first the Biden team will build on its own, Hicks said the ‘22 submission “will provide early insight into our strategic approach,” indicating that there will be some real movement on prioritizing the new administration’s vision.

The new budget will make a larger push to fund research, development, test, and evaluation programs for new and emerging tech, to “underpin the development of next-generation defense capabilities where the nation’s security needs are no longer being met,” she said.

The Biden administration’s highly anticipated first budget submission, expected some time in late May, will remain flat with the 2021 budget when accounting for inflation, something that has drawn fierce criticism from Republicans in Congress.

Hicks suggested that there will be plenty of movement inside those relatively static numbers, leading to shifts in where the department spends money, and how it is spent. 

Both Hicks and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have made the point repeatedly since January that these new investments would be funded in part by getting rid of aging equipment that continues to saddle the military with massive sustainment costs. 

The Marine Corps has jettisoned its Abrams tanks, and the Navy may retire many of its oldest cruisers instead of investing in costly upgrades, among other initiatives brewing in the halls of the Pentagon.

Hicks suggested this trend will speed up in the new budget.

“The budget provides the resources to phase out systems and approaches optimized for an earlier era,” she said, while pumping cash into research and development of new capabilities.

The budget will also address a list of hot-button issues most favored by defense hawks in Congress, including to “set a sustainable shipbuilding plan to ensure our maritime capability outmatches any competitor,” Hicks said. “The requests will modernize our nuclear deterrent and invest in long-range fires capabilities, and it will leverage the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, and ensure that the United States builds the concepts, capabilities, and posture necessary to meet challenges posed by China.”


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