WASHINGTON–The Defense Department’s highest priority when it comes to developing new technologies is creating weapons to deter Beijing aggression, a newly appointed undersecretary of defense told lawmakers on April 18.
Michael D. Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, appeared before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on April 18 to discuss new technologies and threats affecting U.S. national security.
Griffin, the official in charge of the nation’s research and development efforts for defense, told senators that China and Russia have taken advantage of a “holiday” period after the end of the Cold War. The United States started to become complacent and did not invest as much on defense research and development as they did during the previous era.
“The winners never learn anything, but losers always do,” said Griffin. “China has understood fully how to be a superpower. We gave them the playbook, and they are executing it.”
Griffin testified that Russia and China have invested in cutting-edge technologies that specifically aim at exploiting gaps in U.S. defenses. The Chinese regime, in particular, has been developing hypersonic missiles, laser weapons, and other tools that can form what military analysts call an anti-access/area denial strategy to block the U.S. military from engaging in the Asia-Pacific region.
“China has fielded or is close to fielding a hypersonic delivery system for conventional strike that can reach thousands of miles beyond shore and hold our carrier battle groups or deployed forces on land at risk,” said Griffin. “We today do not have a system that can hold them at risk in the correspondent manner, and we don’t have defenses against those systems.”
“It is my highest priority to erase China’s advantages and to create American weapon systems that will hold China at risk,” Griffith said in response to a question from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa).
Griffin said that the United States will never win a man-to-man conflict against China, but can employ technical overmatch. Pentagon is fully invested in developing autonomous and unmanned systems, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, microelectronics, and cyber warfare for offense and defense, he said.
In particular, Griffin mentioned directed-energy weapons as a potentially game-changing technology that the Pentagon is now pursuing wholeheartedly under his watch. The United States started to develop these weapons many years ago, but somehow had not fully committed to the project until now, Griffin said.
Directed-energy weapons employ highly focused energy, which may be lasers, microwaves, or particle beams. Experts believe that lasers have the potential to defeat the Chinese regime’s new hypersonic weapons.
Griffin said that it would be a mistake for the United States to continue to direct defense efforts and resources toward the Middle East in the face of threats posed by China and Russia.
“We have been occupied in the Middle East with terrorism and other concerns, but they are not our existential threat,” said Griffin, citing the new U.S. national security strategy unveiled by Trump last December. “Our global competitions with Russia and China are our existential threats.”