The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) held a confirmation hearing on 19 January 2021 for Gen. Lloyd Austin (Ret.) to serve as Defense secretary.

A video and transcript of the hearing is available on C-SPAN at https://www.c-span.org/video/?507826-1/defense-secretary-nominee-lloyd-austin-testifies-confirmation-hearing&live

From the SASC website are General Austin’s prepared testimony and his response to Advance Policy Questions from which DSJ has excerpted the following key perspectives:

  • Civilian Control of the Department of Defense – “I understand and respect the reservations that some of you have expressed about having another recently retired general at the head of the Department of Defense.  The safety and security of our democracy demands competent civilian control of our armed forces, the subordination of military power to the civil. I spent my entire life committed to that principle…. You see, I am no longer a general. I am no longer a soldier. I am a citizen … the son of a postal worker and a homemaker from Thomasville, Georgia. I am a civilian. And if you confirm me, that’s exactly how I will lead the Defense Department.”
  • Most Urgent Challenges facing the Department of Defense – “The most urgent challenge we face is the pandemic. If confirmed, I will immediately review DoD’s support to the broader U.S. government effort and increase the speed and scale of our support, while maintaining military readiness. Globally, I believe the most significant challenge I will face will be to ensure the Department of Defense’s continued efforts to prepare and strengthen the U.S. military for a dynamic, future security landscape driven by accelerating competitions with China and with Russia — with China as our pacing threat in most areas — while still ensuring our ability to deter today’s range of threats. DoD, in concert with our interagency and international partners and allies, will play a crucial role in deterring Chinese and Russian aggression, while still contending with threats emanating from Iran and North Korea and countering terrorism. We must also address risks to the U.S. Homeland, including demands for defense support to civil authorities.”
  • Post-SECDEF Employment— “Quite frankly, I’ll be too old to sit on the board of a defense contractor after my service. I have no intent to be a lobbyist, as well.”
  • Recruiting & Retaining the Force – “I agree that the limited population who are eligible to serve and a low propensity to serve are concerning, as this challenge impacts our ability to meet our national security objectives. To improve propensity [to serve], we must change misperceptions of what it means to serve in the military. Today, fewer Americans have a personal connection to the military than at any time in the past several decades, and the gap between the American people and their military continues to grow wider. If confirmed, I will support initiatives that bridge knowledge gaps, correct misperceptions and reinforce a consistent, positive message in the market that raises the esteem of joining the military.  I also think we need to do a better job of, once we have people on board, that we are paying attention to them, that we are creating the right kind of environment for them to live in and that they are embracing the values that we think are important in the military and the values that are important for this country.”
  • U.S. Industrial Base Challenges & Solutions – “A number of weaknesses exist in the defense industrial base. They include: workforce stability, financial health, cyber exploitation, a reliance on sole or single source suppliers, reliance on foreign sources (including adversarial sources), and vulnerabilities to predatory and adversarial capital investments. COVID-19 has highlighted previously unknown industrial base risks, created new risks, and exacerbated existing vulnerabilities. These impacts have been visible across businesses of all sizes and their supply chains. A robust defense industrial base is critical to supporting the Warfighter. If confirmed, I will assess the vulnerabilities in the defense industrial base and strategically invest in programs such as Defense Production Act Title III to address them. I will ensure implementation of statutory authorities, including those related to the Committee on Foreign investment in the United States, to protect American technology and know-how from adversarial foreign capital.”
  • U.S. Partner Engagement – “Our alliances and partnerships globally – including the defense tools at our disposal to engage them, and more fundamentally the mutual security commitments and interests we pursue to maintain them – are an asymmetric strategic advantage that our competitors do not possess. The strength of this network of defense relations cannot be taken for granted, though, especially in global competitions with China and Russia. If confirmed, I would seek ways to build on DoD’s alliance and partnership efforts as a core element of defense strategy.  First and foremost, if confirmed, I will make it a priority to rebuild strong defense relationships with our allies and partners around the world, many of whom have felt unsure of U.S. commitments and insufficiently consulted in recent years. In addition to renewing the foundations of our defense relationships, I also understand the Department recently released new guidance to guide efforts to more strategically engage with its network of allies and partners through defense relations, security cooperation, force planning, and elsewhere. If confirmed, I would look to better understand how DoD is framing and implementing this guidance and ensure it is fundamental to broader DoD efforts to review and update defense strategy and its implementation.”