By Dan Rhoades

The new administration is in place and has begun the process to fill positions. Two key positions, Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense have filled and confirmed by Congress: Secretaries Lloyd Austin and Kathleen Hicks, respectively. Secretary Austin is a prior Army four-star general and last served as the commander of the US Central Command. Additionally, he is the first African American to serve as the Secretary of Defense. As an aside, he is a native Georgian raised in Thomasville. Secretary Hicks has an extensive background in National Security and served as the Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for policy during the Obama administration.

While the budget was due the first week of February, new administrations are generally given time to get a budget together. We are hearing the budget is not expected until May, and will likely be flat, somewhere between $704-708 billion for defense. The focus remains great power competition, focused on China with Secretary Hicks commenting the U.S. must “demonstrate the will and capability to credibly deter (their) aggression.”

The focus appears to be on retiring “legacy” systems while funding cutting-edge and new technologies, although what is “legacy” is not defined. They would like to modernize the military “at a speed and scale that matches a dynamic threat landscape,” and Secretary Hicks has stated DoD is committed to “rapid experimentation” with new technologies. This appears to continue the efforts from the last administration to streamline the acquisition processes with a focus on advanced technologies, something Middle Georgia has embraced.

The focus in press and testimony to date is on advancing our naval capabilities. We will have to wait to see how this impacts the Air Force, but if the Navy’s budget increases it will have to come from somewhere. The Air Force’s budget is the smallest of the services when you take out pass-through funding, so it is likely the Army would have a larger share of impacts. Additionally, through Sequestration, the Air Force cut their budget to the bone, making it difficult to manage further cuts that do not directly impact mission. We are certainly watching to see what those impacts are for the Air Force, and to Middle Georgia overall.