Analysts Say FY17 Budget Will Have Limited Impact on Military Modernization

By Jon Harper

Photo: Getty

Senate and House lawmakers finally passed an appropriations bill for fiscal year 2017 this week. But analysts said it would not significantly contribute to President Donald Trump’s push to “rebuild” the U.S. military.

The omnibus bill was approved by the Senate May 4, a day after it was passed by the House. Trump is expected to sign it into law May 5.

The legislation would provide $593 billion for defense in 2017, an increase of $19.9 billion over the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $16.3 above the Obama administration’s request. It would also provide $4.7 billion more for equipment procurement relative to fiscal year 2016 enacted levels, according to a summary released by the House Appropriations Committee.

It includes $14.8 billion in supplemental funding requested by the Trump administration, far short of the $30 billion the president called for.

The commander-in-chief touted the increase in military spending during an appearance in the White House rose garden May 2.

The budget deal will fund a “massive and badly needed increase in defense,” he said. “We’re going to have the finest equipment of all types — whether it’s airplanes, or ships, or equipment in general — that we’ve ever had in the history of the country.”

But analysts said the extra money would have a limited impact on military modernization.

While the legislation does include some additional funding to purchase big ticket items that weren’t included in the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request — such as more F-35 and F/A-18 fighter jets — the majority of the bump is slated to go toward smaller equipment items and enhancing training and readiness, analysts said.

“The increase that they got really is just kind of covering must-pay bills, if you will, to maintain the size of force that they have today,” said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It doesn’t give you a lot of new capability.”

Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense budget analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said the extra procurement money that was derived from Trump’s supplemental request is mostly for small programs.
“It’s things like missiles and munitions and platform upgrades or modifications,” she said. “That’s because this was an increase focused on readiness, readiness and readiness.”

Harrison said: “This does not rebuild the military [and] it doesn’t put us on a path to rebuild the military.”

Secretary of Defense James Mattis highlighted the benefits of the budget increase, saying they will satisfy wartime needs and boost readiness.

“These additional funds will accelerate the campaign to defeat ISIS, support ongoing operations in Afghanistan and address critical budget shortfalls. Everything from new missiles and ammunition, to facility upgrades, to new aircraft are being funded by this bill,” he said in a statement after the legislative deal was reached.

Trump claimed victory in the Democrats’ willingness to abandon their previous position that any increases in defense spending would have to be matched by equal increases in non-defense spending.

Republicans succeeded in “breaking the so-called parity rule that was breaking our budget and degrading our military,” he said.

The president insisted that the old paradigm, a major sticking point between Republicans and Democrats in previous budget negotiations, is now in the rearview mirror.

“That’s not happening anymore, that I can tell you with surety,” he said.

Kurt Couchman, vice president of public policy at the advocacy group Defense Priorities, supports de-linking military and non-military spending. But it’s too soon to say whether the parity principle is now a thing of the past, he said.

“This pattern may not hold,” he said in a newsletter. “Each budget deal is different. The principal negotiators are different. The pressure and leverage change with deadlines and external factors.”


Topics: Procurement, Budget, Acquisition

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