U.S. Military ‘Staring into Abyss,’ Report Says
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A new report has a grim message: the Pentagon’s force structure will likely prove inadequate barring a boost in defense spending or a major change in national security strategy.
Force structure includes the number, size and structure of military units.
President Joe Biden requested $715 billion for the Pentagon in fiscal year 2022 — a 1.6 percent budget increase that is below the rate of inflation.
If that “no-growth” pattern continues in coming years, force structure will shrink rapidly, according to a recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “U.S. Military Forces in FY 2022 — The Budget and Strategy Overview.”
Biden’s fiscal blueprint also called for a slight decrease in active-duty end strength, from 1,351,000 personnel in 2021 to 1,346,400 in 2022.
“The Trump administration’s plan for moderate growth in force structure has likely been shelved,” said CSIS analyst Mark Cancian, the author of the study.
As of press time, the Biden administration has yet to release its new national defense strategy. However, based on the interim national security strategic guidance released earlier this year, there is likely to be no major reductions in military roles and missions, according to Cancian.
The Pentagon faces several long-term challenges, he said, including the need to meet demands for crisis response, allied engagement, gray zone competition and ongoing regional conflicts while simultaneously modernizing for great power competition. Investments in modernization could require tradeoffs in force structure, he noted.
“The opening of a gap between resources and strategy — as budgets are flat or reduced and the strategy remains unchanged — increases risk, as military capabilities may not be able to back foreign policy commitments,” he said.
“For strategic and budgetary reasons, force structure is ‘staring into the abyss,’” he added. “These resources are unlikely to be adequate for the expansive national security strategy that the Biden administration has laid out. … Several years of flat budgets will erode U.S. capabilities. A less ambitious strategy could accommodate that erosion, but the Biden administration’s commitment to global engagement may drive a continuing high level of military deployments.”
However, some in Congress, including lawmakers on key committees, are pushing to plus-up the defense budget.
“If these efforts succeed, force structure could be yanked back from the brink,” Cancian said. “Congressional proposals for increased resources have not added personnel but would take the pressure off force structure as the source of funding. Force structure in all the services would likely continue at about its current level, with the possible exception of Navy ships, which [would] increase.”
Topics: Defense Department