Army Leaders Bracing for Budget Reductions
The Army is prepared to sacrifice near-term readiness for modernization if bleak budget forecasts come to pass, according to one senior official.
The service has ambitious plans to develop a variety of new systems. Its top six modernization priorities include: long-range fires, next-generation combat vehicles, future vertical lift, the network, air-and-missile defense, and soldier lethality.
“We’ve been well resourced” in recent years, said Lt. Gen. James Pasquarette, deputy chief of staff, Army G-8. The service received a topline of $180 billion for 2020.
But based on feedback from economists and think tank experts, officials are bracing for the possibility that budgets will be tighter in coming years.
“We asked them their thoughts on the future DoD topline, given the impacts COVID was having on our economy and the associated outlays … from Congress,” Pasquarette said during an online event hosted by the Association of the United States Army.
There were two schools of thought, he said. One was that the economic fallout would only lead to “perhaps a minor topline hit.”
“Under that scenario, the Army leadership would not have to make any real tough choices. We could essentially head down the same path we’ve been on: slow growth, continuing to fully modernize while also remaining highly ready,” he said.
The majority opinion was bleaker: the Pentagon should be preparing for significant budget cuts.
Faced with a much lower topline, the Army would be forced to make tradeoffs between modernization, readiness and end strength, he noted.
During past budget crunches, the service prioritized near-term readiness and took a “modernization holiday,” he said. “We do have a bad track record.”
However, “it’s going to be different this time around if and when we receive a significant topline reduction,” he said. “We will look at continuing to fully resource … efforts that are deemed especially critical.”
Pasquarette said several trends give him confidence that the latest plans to revamp the force will stay on track. The Army has established a Futures Command led by a four-star general dedicated to developing the highest priority capabilities. The service has also shown an ability to shift funding within its own topline through program reviews known as the “night court” process, through which it has freed up more than $39 billion to reinvest in its top modernization efforts. Additionally, the threat posed by advanced adversaries such as China will continue to be a strong motivator for acquiring new technology, he noted.