Trump Administration Requests $74 billion Increase for Defense Department
Photo: Missile Defense Agency
The Trump administration on Feb. 12 requested a $74 billion increase in the overall Defense Department budget for fiscal year 2019.
With congressionally enacted budget caps lifted for two more years after a budget deal was reached Feb. 9, the revitalized Defense Department budget only cancels one major program, requests no base closures, gives a higher than normal raise to military personnel and boosts overall end strength by almost 26,000.
The request includes a base of $617 billion with an additional $69 billion in overseas contingency operations funding for a total of $686 billion. The topline number is 10 percent more than the $611.8 billion that was enacted Feb. 9.
Defense Department Comptroller David L. Norquist said, “While a $74 billion increase is large, it is important to put in its historical context. Even with this budget agreement, defense outlays will remain near historical lows as a share of the U.S. economy.” They were 4.5 percent of GDP in 2010 and the new request is only 3.1 percent of GDP.
The Defense Department is crawling out of financial hole, Norquist said in a briefing at the Pentagon. Since the Budget Control Act of 2011 took effect, the armed forces have lost more than $400 billion in readiness, maintenance and modernization. “With the bipartisan budget agreement, that hemorrhaging stops,” he said.
“Congress’ action last week was an essential step in restoring and rebuilding our military. We look forward to working with Congress this year to put the budget process back on a normal schedule and to avoid disruptive continuing resolutions in FY 19,” Norquist said.
Analysts interviewed said such large increases may not be sustainable.
Peter W. Singer, a senior fellow and strategist at the New America think tank, said, “I'm more concerned about the overall [Feb. 9] deal than the defense budget itself. We've just massively exploded the debt, in the midst of a good economy and low unemployment. It boggles the mind, as it violates both supposed conservative ideology and basic economic policy. Mark my words, we are going to pay a strategic price for it.”
Dan Gouré, senior vice president at the Lexington Institute, said he is more concerned about what happens in the out years. If there are two years of increases then afterwards budget caps are reinstated and budget numbers fall again, “then we may do as much harm as good.”
“I don’t see in the out years having hikes as big as this, but this [budget] puts us on a path — that if sustained by reasonable increases in the out years — should get the military in a good place,” Gouré said.
The Missile Defense Agency went from $8.5 billion in 2017 to $9.9 billion requested for 2019. The Ground-Based Midcourse Defense program will add 20 additional missiles for a total of 64 by 2023.
MDA programs “are moving way too slowly,” Gouré said. More money doesn’t lead to more deployable interceptors and more tests at MDA, he noted. “Money comes and money goes and the pace stays the same.”
The Defense Department’s science-and-technology accounts went up $500 million, for a total of $13.7 billion, which constitutes a 4 percent increase. That includes $3.4 billion for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Research-and-development priorities include: hypersonics, autonomy, cyber, space, directed energy, electronic warfare and artificial intelligence.
“The domains that we are operating in and that our enemies are operating or are attempting to operate in have expanded and we need to be able to address those,” Norquist said. He could not breakdown how the money was allocated.
Singer said: “This is unfortunately one of those times where something that sounds big actually isn't. A half billion sounds like a lot, but not when you compare the percentage increase in R&D to the overall budget increase and, moreover, how it has to be spread across programs that range from AI to cyber to directed energy to space to robotics and so on.”
Gouré added that the individual services have substantial increases in research, development, test and evaluation funding. “Are they actually going to find a way to extract real capability out of this money?” The services need to produce a “whole bunch of real stuff, real soon,” he said. “It is not clear how much of this money is going to end up reasonably soon … in actual hardware and actual capability.”
The budget reflects changes in national security strategy documents that show a shift from fighting terrorists to great power competition with China and Russia, said the director of force structure, resources and assessment at the Joint Staff, Army Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Ierardi.
“In this respect, our investments to support activities — both capabilities and posture in Asia and Europe — are important aspects of this budget,” Ierardi said at the briefing
Budget documents also reflect a plan to phase out the overseas contingency operations funds that are used to finance conflicts. Beginning in fiscal year 2020, they are reduced to $20 billion, which is at the suggestion of the Office of Management and Budget, Norquist said. That is also the year Budget Control Act caps would return, if they are not lifted, he acknowledged. That might amount to a budget cut.
The only major program the two officials could name that would be cut is the Air Force’s E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System. There was also nothing in the proposal for a round of base realignment and closures, a perennial request that goes ignored by Congress.
Norquist said: “We have asked for it a number of times in the past without success." The Defense Department wants to work with Congress in common areas where they may makes reforms and changes “that don’t create the same kinds of obstacles.” It is also undergoing a financial statement audit that includes a look at property investments and will improve data. That will allow for better decision making on property, he said.
The budget request a 2.6 percent raise for military personnel, which would be the largest pay raise in nine years, Norquist said. It also doesn’t include any cost-sharing healthcare reforms that would raise co-pays, he pointed out.
The National Defense Industrial Association — publisher of National Defense, said in a statement that it “welcomes the president’s fiscal year 2019 budget and its call for investments to rebuild our military’s readiness, capabilities and capacity.
“Right now, we need this; the increasingly complex and dangerous global security environment, described in the National Defense Strategy, make these required investments we can no longer delay. … We call on Congress to take the opportunity this two-year budget agreement offers to return to normal order, so that every defense dollar is maximized for our nation’s security.”