COVID-19 NEWS: Army to Adjust Budgets for Virus-Related Debt

By Connie Lee

Photo By: Army Sgt. Amanda Hunt

The Army must adjust its future budget requests to account for debt accrued during the COVID-19 pandemic, the service’s top official said Oct. 7.

The Army has been participating in Operation Warp Speed to help develop a coronavirus vaccine quickly and has been working to make changes to its weapons programs to account for potential schedule setbacks. National deficits also continue to grow, a trend which is expected to put downward pressure on defense budgets in coming years.

“It’s [a] tremendous amount of debt that we've incurred to deal with COVID and it was necessary, but how do we deal with this going forward? We're looking very hard at that and we're talking to economists,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said during a Hudson Institute webinar. “If you have a flat fiscal environment, there’s nowhere else to go but to cut internally.”

Previously, the Army would participate in research for diseases such as the Ebola and the Zika viruses and be reimbursed for its efforts, McCarthy said. However, now the service is looking to have this money directly appropriated into its budget for the Army Medical Research and Development Command.

“The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] or World Health Organization would come in, ‘Hey, I got a problem. Can you help me? Here's a bag of money. Can you study this?’” McCarthy said. “We started looking at changing the model, and say we need direct appropriation and strategy. … They're going to have a whole future years defense plan [with] all of the infectious diseases they're going to go after.”

Upcoming budget requests will also continue to make cuts to free up money for the Army's modernization priorities, he noted. The top priorities include long-range precision fires, future vertical lift, next-generation combat vehicles, the network, air-and-missile defense, and soldier lethality. In 2019, the service kicked off its "night court” process to pick which programs to slash.

“These will be tougher cuts,” McCarthy said of upcoming budget blueprints, adding that the proposals will be "contentious" as they relate to legacy systems.

"You have to start there," he said. "You can't do everything. So we have to divest on those key platforms."

Service officials have previously said there will be a decline in funding levels for the Bradley fighting vehicle, joint light tactical vehicle and the armored multi-purpose vehicle in future years. During the webinar, McCarthy did not identify specific systems that will be on the chopping block.

Topics: Defense Department

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