Rep. Gaetz Accuses US Military Leadership of Pandering to ‘Wokeism’ in Heated Exchange With Defense Secretary

By Andrew Thornebrooke
Andrew Thornebrooke
Andrew Thornebrooke
National Security Correspondent
Andrew Thornebrooke is a national security correspondent for The Epoch Times covering China-related issues with a focus on defense, military affairs, and national security. He holds a master's in military history from Norwich University.
April 6, 2022Updated: April 7, 2022

A hearing on the Biden administration’s proposed defense budget turned rancorous on April 5, with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin verbally sparring over the state of America’s hypersonic weapons capabilities.

Gaetz said that the hypersonic capabilities of the U.S. military had fallen behind those of the Chinese military, and cited Chinese advancements in hypersonic weapons technologies such as its test of an orbital bombardment system last July.

Austin rebuffed the comments and questioned the idea that the U.S. military was falling behind China’s.

“What do you mean we’re behind in hypersonics?” Austin asked. “How do you make that assessment?”

“Your own people brief us that we’re behind and China is winning,” Gaetz said. “Are you aware of the briefings we get on hypersonics?”

“I am certainly aware of the briefings that we provide to Congress,” Austin responded.

The state of U.S. hypersonic capabilities is currently a point of contention among military leadership. Some believe it is imperative that America outproduce the Chinese communist when it comes to such weapons, while others believe that they are not necessary to carrying out the United States’ strategic goals.

Then-Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. John Hyten, said in October that the United States had initially begun to develop a hypersonics system back in 2011, but scrapped the project after just two failed tests.

Hyten blamed a “brutal” and out-of-control military bureaucracy which he said caused new weapons systems 10 to 15 years to develop on average, with some taking far longer.

He further said that while the Chinese Communist Party had conducting hundreds of hypersonics tests in the last decade, the United States had conducted just nine.

“Single digits versus hundreds is not a good place,” Hyten said.

Conversely, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall downplayed the need for U.S. hypersonics, saying that the nation’s strategic priorities were different than China’s. Put simply, while hypersonics are required by China to penetrate U.S. defenses in the event of a war, the United States does not require them to strike its own targets.

Instead, Kendall said, the United States should invest in space-based systems that could adequately defend against hypersonics.

The kerfuffle between Gaetz and Austin reached a low point when Gaetz accused the U.S. military of pandering to “wokeism” and Austin accused Gaetz of being embarrased of the military and of America.

“The fact that you’re embarrassed by your country, by your military, I’m sorry for that,” Austin said.

“Oh no,” Gaetz said, “I’m embarrassed for your leadership. I am not embarrassed for my country.”

“This is the most capable, most combat critical force in the world,” Austin said. “It has been and it will be so going forward, and this budget helps us to do that.”