Send more long-range strike missiles and drones to Ukraine to disrupt Russia’s communications and long-range fires now, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said in a message to the White House on Wednesday.
“Every single piece of artillery [the United States is sending to Kyiv] can strike Russia” now. “We should be giving [the Ukrainians] more drones, more quickly.” He did not see these moves as escalating the conflict, noting that Russian President Vladimir Putin has drawn numerous “lines in the sand.” While the Kremlin said it would act if NATO or the European Union sent more advanced weaponry to Ukraine, so far nothing has changed in that regard.
The reason for longer-range weapons and drones, in Smith’s view, “is Russia’s communications are secure and [can] see further” than what Ukraine has in the fight on its eastern and southern fronts.
He said it would be a mistake for “anyone to think [Putin’s] going to stop in [eastern and southern] Ukraine [with a cease-fire]. … This is a vanity project for him.”
When asked about Russia’s threat to employ tactical nuclear weapons in the conflict, Smith said “Putin’s just using that to have us stand down [while he] enslaves Ukraine.”
Since Russia remains a major nuclear power, “we have to have a deterrent,” Smith said. But “we’re not talking with the Russians” over arms control. “We should start having arms control negotiations.”
Looking at the U.S. nuclear force, Smith added, “we need to modernize it.” As he has in the past, he emphasized the bomber force and ballistic missile submarines as being the most survivable. On ground-based missile systems, he said the question remains “do we need it?”
On China, the pacing threat in the National Defense Strategy, Smith said the question needs to be “how do we better deter” Beijing from threatening Taiwan with invasion and bullying its neighbors. The way to go is to invest in technologies and systems that “make the other sides’ systems more vulnerable.”
Smith said, “I think strategic ambiguity is just fine” when it comes to what Washington would do if Beijing invaded Taiwan. “We’ve got to build the capability” to deter a cross-straits invasion.
In addition, he said the United States has an advantage in its network of allies and partners, including the Quad, the informal security and economic operations between the U.S., Japan, India and Australia, in countering China.
“We can’t go it alone,” Smith said. He added that “Japan is stepping up quite a bit” in addressing Beijing’s aggressiveness in the Indo-Pacific.
He also said it was important for the U.S. to “see if we can have China see it’s not a zero sum game,” where only Beijing or Washington can prevail.
Smith said he believes the Fiscal Year 2023 budget submission “aligns quite well” with the strategy. It emphasizes modernization “to focus on [technology] like JADC2 [Joint All Domain Command and Control]” while calling for the retirement of older ships and aircraft.
Not all of the administration’s recommended retirements of legacy systems have passed through Smith’s committee or House appropriators. The Senate markup of the National Defense Authorization Act is underway. Differences would need to be worked out in a conference and then submitted to both houses for approval.
Smith also has seen changes in the Pentagon, Congress and defense industry that recognize the urgency to modernize processes, technology and systems over “pet projects.”
“We’ll see how it plays.” Smith added that HASC ranking member Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) is in agreement with him on this emphasis to “make sure we’re spending [tax dollars] wisely.” He also praised former HASC chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) for laying much of the groundwork for this shift in emphasis by giving the Pentagon new authorities for modernization.
He said several times that it cannot just be a single person pushing for problem-solving, but needs to become part of the department’s culture.