In $323M wishlist, SOUTHCOM wants money to counter Chinese influence, drugs in South America

US Southern Command laid out 20 different unfunded budget priorities for fiscal year 2025 in a 28-page list sent to Congress and obtained by Breaking Defense.

UNITAS 2023: Riverine Training

U.S. Marines Corps 1st Lt. David Powell guards the perimeter of a UH-1Y Venom landing zone during riverine operations training on the Río Sinú during UNITAS LXIV near Base de Entrenamiento de Infantería de Marina in Coveñas, Colombia, July 14, 2023. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Juan Carpanzano)

WASHINGTON — Should lawmakers see fit to add it on, US Southern Command could use an additional $322.6 million in its fiscal 2025 budget to pay for array of needs, ranging from millions in security assistance funding to keep US partner nations from falling prey to Chinese influence, to new equipment and facilities dedicated to the counter-narcotics mission.

In all, SOUTHCOM laid out 20 different unfunded budget priorities for FY25 in a 28-page list sent to Congress today and obtained by Breaking Defense.

The list is topped by the most expensive line item: $90 million SOUTHCOM wants in order to build a new command and control facility at Naval Air Station Key West to support the Joint-Interagency Task Force-South mission, which focuses on the interdiction of cocaine and other drugs. Current facilities, the command says, have exceeded their service life, pose safety risks and are at “significant risk” of not meeting mission requirements.

Security assistance to individual friendly nations made up a major portion of the list, with SOUTHCOM outlining $23 million for Ecuador, $3.7 million for Paraguay, $2.8 million for the Dominican Republic, $495,000 for Chile, $4.6 million for Jamaica, $12.5 million for Guatemala, and $5.7 million for Trinidad and Tobago and to meet various training and equipment needs.

Failure to provide that funding, SOUTHCOM warned, could result in greater domestic instability or other factors that could pave the way for China to deepen its relationships with local public and private institutions and exert more influence in the region.

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Unfunded Air Force training exercises in the Caribbean and South America, totaling $37 million, typically provide a “strategic opportunity” to build ties with partner militaries that, if lost, could also lead to China filling the vacuum, SOUTHCOM said.

SOUTHCOM leaders have consistently raised alarm bells in recent years about increased activities by China in the region.

Beijing seeks to gain access to waterways and materials in Latin America and the Caribbean, and is using its economic influence to sway nations in the region to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan, SOUTHCOM Commander Gen. Laura Richardson told lawmakers on March 14.

“The PRC [People’s Republic of China] is playing the ‘long game’ with its development of dual-use sites and facilities throughout the region,” she stated in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The PRC messages its investments as peaceful, but in fact, many serve as points of future multi-domain access for the PLA and strategic naval chokepoints.”

While the majority of the list given to lawmakers today was dedicated to training requirements and needs at military installations, one major equipment buy made the list: With an additional $30 million, SOUTHCOM could purchase a second special mission ship for the Army, used by the service to disrupt drug trafficking.

Other unfunded needs include $22.6 million required to maintain SOUTHCOM’s connection to the Defense Department Information Network and $21.2 million for the Theater Maintenance Partnership Initiative, which trains US partners in the region how to repair and sustain equipment.