July 16 (UPI) -- At his confirmation hearing in the Senate Tuesday, acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Pentagon must pay close attention to growing threats -- including those presented by nations like China and Russia.
The Senate armed services committee questioned Esper about his plans for potential future conflicts, to which he replied the U.S. armed forces must upgrade.
"This requires us to modernize our forces and capitalize on rapid technological advancements in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, directed energy, and hypersonic," he said.
Esper has said the upgrade strategy includes weapon systems and other equipment. Strengthening international alliances and improving performance and accountability at the Pentagon are also key focus areas.
Tuesday, he also singled out North Korea, Iran and terrorist groups as primary threats.
"The bottom line is this -- in an era of mounting fiscal challenges and competing demands, we must see ways to free up time, money, and manpower," he added.
Like other Cabinet appointees, Esper is expected to be asked about his ability to stand up to the president -- and how he plans to handle rising tensions with Iran.
If confirmed, Esper would fill a post that's been vacant since December, when James Mattis left. Patrick Shanahan was tabbed to replace him, but he withdrew his candidacy last month. Esper has been acting secretary since Monday.
Experts and lawmakers don't expect much resistance to Esper's appointment. He was confirmed by an overwhelming majority as Army secretary in 2017.