White House to End Defense Sequester, Boost Military’s Cyber Capabilities

Trump administration previews priorities for bolstering armed forces

Donald Trump
AP

Donald Trump's administration will end the defense sequester and direct U.S. military leaders to develop defensive and offensive cyber capabilities to bolster the armed forces.

The military budget, missile defense, and cyber defense are priorities for the new White House, according to a statement on its website laying out Trump's plan to "make our military strong again."

Military leaders have spotlighted how reductions in defense spending have compromised the future military readiness of the joint force. In congressional testimony last fall, service leaders disclosed that their forces would not be able to defend the United States against current and future threats if sequestration continued.

According to the White House, Trump plans to end the defense sequester and send a new budget to Congress outlining his plan to rebuild the military. It is unclear how much defense spending Trump will propose, but the White House said he will commit to providing military leaders "with the means to plan for our future defense needs." The Pentagon operates on a roughly $600 billion annual budget.

The Budget Control Act of 2011 implemented a package of automatic spending cuts to defense and discretionary domestic spending. The cuts, designed to take place over a decade, are expected to erode defense spending by roughly $1 trillion.

Some Republican members of Congress have been vocal about the need to reverse cuts that have squeezed the defense budget, as well as force drawdowns authorized during the Obama administration. Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, unveiled a plan last week that would boost national defense spending by $430 billion over five years, repeal the Budget Control Act, and increase the services' force levels.

Defense Secretary James Mattis, who was confirmed by the Senate to lead the Pentagon on Friday, will be responsible for plans to bolster the military. Mattis underscored his commitment to ending the defense sequester during his confirmation hearing earlier this month, saying the military could not deter potential adversaries like Russia and China at present.

The Trump administration also plans to develop a "state-of-the-art missile defense system" to protect against missile threats from Iran and North Korea, given their development of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

The United States last year deployed a missile defense system in Romania to protect NATO allies against missile threats from Iran and other rogue states. It plans to deploy the advanced THAAD anti-missile system to South Korea as soon as possible. Both Russia and China regard the U.S. missile defense shield as a threat, and have agreed to work on countermeasures against U.S. anti-missile technology.

Trump also intends to make cyber defense a priority of the U.S. military, according to the White House. Cyber attacks have become a source of serious concern among congressional lawmakers and the media as a result of the intelligence community's conclusions about the Russian government's hacking campaign aimed at the U.S. presidential election.

The intelligence community concluded in an unclassified report released this month that Russia used cyber attacks and disinformation to undermine the election and damage Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

"Cyberwarfare is an emerging battlefield, and we must take every measure to safeguard our national security secrets and systems," the White House website states. "We will make it a priority to develop defensive and offensive cyber capabilities at our U.S. Cyber Command, and recruit the best and brightest Americans to serve in this crucial area."

The Pentagon's inspector general concluded at the end of last year that the department faces significant challenges in cyber security after it uncovered a "wide range of cyber security weaknesses" in Defense Department systems during fiscal year 2016.

Trump, who has sharply criticized the intelligence community's conclusions about Russia, has already said he will appoint a team to develop a strategy to combat cyber attacks within 90 days of taking office.