The Senate late Monday confirmed Kathleen Hicks, a former Obama administration official, as Deputy Secretary of Defense.
The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) confirmed Hicks for the position by a voice vote after approving her nomination on Feb. 4.
Hicks, 50, was previously a deputy undersecretary of defense under the Obama administration. More recently, she led Biden’s transition team at the Pentagon.
Prior to her nomination as deputy defense secretary, she led the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and was also the think tank’s senior vice president.
At a hearing to consider her nomination last week, Hicks told the Senate Armed Services Committee that China and Russia are among the top challenges for the United States.
“Armed conflict between the United States and China is not desirable, and it is not inevitable. The U.S. military plays a critical role in preventing that outcome,” she said.
Recently-appointed Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, a retired military general, had pledged to recuse himself from any decisions related to U.S. company Raytheon Technologies while serving as defense secretary because he previously served on the defense contractor’s board of directors.
As such, programmatic decisions involving Raytheon will be overseen by Hicks, and involve at least two nuclear initiatives: a new nuclear cruise missile called the “Long Range Standoff Weapon” (LRSO) for which Raytheon is a prime contractor; and a replacement program for the country’s intercontinental ballistic missiles called the “Ground Based Strategic Deterrent” (GBSD), for which Raytheon’s subsidiary is a subcontractor.
Hicks is the first woman to be confirmed as the country’s deputy defense secretary.
“Congratulations to Kathleen Hicks on her historic confirmation as the new Deputy Secretary of Defense!” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) wrote on Twitter.
“She is a highly regarded defense policy expert who has served in multiple administrations with integrity and distinction,” Reed said in a statement to Defense News. “She is a true professional. I am pleased she will join Secretary Austin in leading the Department of Defense forward, defending our nation, and upholding our values.”
Hicks told senators at her confirmation hearing last week that her top priorities would include reforming and modernizing the military, including supporting innovation in areas involving hypersonics, quantum computing. and other technologies to aid warfighters. She added that she would prioritize modernizing the nuclear triad, although did not elaborate on any specific weapons programs.
“My view is that the triad has served us very well, it has created stability and it has value,” Hicks said.
She noted that decisions on U.S. nuclear policy would be deferred to Austin and Biden.
Hicks also said at the confirmation hearing that she is concerned by the “extreme consolidation” of weapons producers and suppliers in the United States.
“Yes, I am concerned,” she said when asked about the matter by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), adding, “extreme consolidation does create challenges for innovation.”
“We need to have a lot of different good ideas out there. That’s our competitive advantage over authoritarian states like China, and Russia. And so if we move all competition out, obviously, that’s a challenge for the taxpayer. But it’s also a challenge in terms of the innovation piece,” she added.
Blumenthal had mentioned that the number of submarine suppliers had decreased over recent decades from 17,000 to 5,000 and how the phenomenon suggested that there are problems facing the defense industrial base.
“I’m hoping you will focus on the supply chain that is vitally important to suppliers like Electric Boat or Raytheon or any of our major sources of supply,” Blumenthal said. He also noted that Hicks had committed to help small suppliers as well as develop new suppliers.