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Rep. Waltz Discusses U.S. Readiness in Space, Afghanistan Negotiations at Hearing with Top Pentagon Officials

Today, at a House Armed Services Committee hearing about the Pentagon’s Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Budget Request, Representative Michael Waltz (FL-R) questioned top Pentagon officials about U.S. combat readiness for a conflict in space, establishment of the U.S. Space Command, and threats posed by ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban.
Noting our dependence on satellite capabilities for many aspect of daily life and increasing investments in space by adversaries like Russia and China, Waltz asked Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan about U.S. combat readiness in this developing domain and necessary investments to maintain strategic advantages. Waltz also urged Shanahan to consider locating the U.S. Space Command in Florida after Shanahan denied reports that Colorado had already been chosen.
Waltz then questioned the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford about the Taliban’s capabilities to hold off Al Qaeda from finding safe haven in Afghanistan. Waltz has forcefully opposed a peace deal with the Taliban at this time given over 20 terrorist groups that reside on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and the Taliban’s inability and unwillingness to keep them in check.
Video of the full exchange is available here, and a full transcript is available below.
Representative Michael Waltz: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Gentlemen, thank you for your service, and thank you for being here today. I want to talk to you a moment about space.
“Russia and China have weaponized space. They have done so. They are in the process of doing so, and they explicitly in their national security strategy seek to dominate the United States in space. They are prepared for war, and in my opinion we are not. So with the flip of a switch China can track, they can dazzle, they can destroy our assets in space. In 2018 China conducted more space launches than any other--than any other country in the world. Why does this matter? I think as leaders we need to help Americans understand that our entire modern way of life is dependent on space now. Our navigation, our supply chain, our banking, how we communicate. The Space Foundation says over $400 billion of our economy is now dependent on space. Yet in the Pentagon our various components for war fighting in that domain are all over the place.
“GAO estimated we have over 60 [federal] stakeholders involved in this organization. In terms of acquisition oversight in the Air Force is 11 different parts. I personally believe we are with space where we were in the 1940s with the Air Force where it had to be split off from the Air Corps for all kinds of reasons that are now obvious.
“I have introduced legislation that cleans up some past legislation in terms of making it a fully unified command versus the subordinate command. I would encourage my colleagues to support me in that.
“Bottom line, gentlemen, and I'll go with you, Mr. Secretary, are we prepared? Are you confident that we could win a conflict in space today if we had to do so?”
Acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan: “I'm fully confident we could win a conflict in space today.”
Waltz: “Without the current budget trajectory, for example, if we had to go to a continuing resolution, are you confident that we could win in space in the next 5 to 10 years given the Chinese investments?”
Shanahan: “We just don't need to take that risk. I mean this is really about--we have a $19 trillion economy that runs on space. We need--that's why the--a CR would be so painful. We've put a plan in place. The 3 percent to 5 percent growth -- real growth that we need allows us to even go faster, but it's vital that we get that top line.”
Waltz: “Mr. Secretary, have you made a decision on where the new U.S. Space Command will be located? There is reporting in the press that it will be in Colorado and that there's been a nomination.”
Shanahan: “Yeah, no, there's--there's—"
Waltz: “I would submit to you space is in Florida's DNA.”
Shanahan: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Right.”
Waltz: “And to strongly consider Florida as you move forward with that decision.
“Break, break. Separate topic on counterterrorism, capacity building, soft power. I would just submit to you that--and I'm concerned in hearing testimony across the board from across the services. I understand where we're going with the National Defense Strategy. I think that's the right place, the right thing to do in terms of reinvesting in our technological superiority. However, we cannot do what we did in the 1980s post-Vietnam and flush those lessons, those counterinsurgency, those counterterrorism lessons down the tubes. Gentlemen, General Dunford, do you believe ISIS is defeated as a military organization?”
General Joseph Dunford: “ISIS maintains global capability, Congressman, so while they've been clear to the ground in Syria, in Iraq it remains a threat.”
Waltz: “Do you believe Al Qaeda is defeated?”
Dunford: “No, I don't, Congressman.”
Waltz: “Do you believe that in your military advice that the Taliban--forget their political will, that they have the military capability to deny Al Qaeda use of Afghanistan, and particularly military capability that a 300,000-man Afghan Army and a coalition of the most powerful Western armies in the world have struggled to do in 18 years, and I've certainly participated in and I know you have as well? Do you believe the Taliban have that capability if we bought into the fact that they desire to do so?”
Dunford: “Congressman, I'm not--I'm not pushing back on your question, but it's hard for me to imagine having a conversation about the Taliban fighting Al Qaeda given how close they are as organizations right now.”
Waltz: “Right. 100 percent agree. First we have to get over do we buy they have the will to deny Al Qaeda Afghanistan as a launching pad into back in the United States. Then we have to look at what's their enforcement mechanism, what's their capability.
“Gentlemen, just with the time I have remaining, I'm glad that you touched on the fact that if we had to go to a national emergency today from a recruiting standpoint 75 percent of young people couldn't serve in the military. That's why I'm pushing for--to go--for us to go back to National Service. That's not a draft, that's national service, as a means to prepare our young people to serve in all types of capacities, and look forward to working with you in that regard.
“Thank you.”