BUDGET 2024: Flat Army Request Signals Focus on Indo-Pacific Capabilities
The Defense Department’s $842 billion budget request for fiscal year 2024 is the largest request “in nominal terms that the United States has ever put forward,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks told reporters March 13.
However, the department’s request for the Army was dwarfed by those of its sister services, pointing to the United States’ prioritization of air- and sea-based capabilities for a potential Indo-Pacific conflict, according to experts.
The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act enacted a total budget of $185.2 billion for the Army for fiscal year 2023. For fiscal year 2024, the Department of the Army requested $185.5 billion — a less than 0.2 percent raise.
When compared to the requests for the Department of the Navy and Department of the Air Force — which would see both departments’ budgets increase by 4.5 percent compared to 2023 NDAA-enacted levels — the Army is the “big loser” for 2024, said Mark Cancian, a senior adviser in the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ International Security Program.
“I don’t know if it was a strategic decision … to cut the Army — a lot of people have been wanting to do that — but that’s certainly the effect you’re seeing,” Cancian said in an interview.
The Army’s proposed procurement budget for 2024 is almost $260 million less than what the 2023 NDAA enacted. The service would significantly reduce its acquisition budget for aircraft — some $830 million less than 2023 levels — and weapons and tracked combat vehicles — nearly $740 million less than 2023 levels.
Where the service is significantly increasing procurement investment is in missiles. For 2024, the Army requested more than $1.1 billion above the 2023 NDAA authorized missile procurement funding. Overall, the service is looking to spend nearly $5 billion on missile procurement in 2024.
Additionally, the Army is seeking to invest $1 billion in its Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon program “to support the further development and demonstration of the prototype battery that will provide the Army a strategic attack weapon system to defeat anti-access, area denial capabilities,” director of the Army budget Maj. Gen. Mark Bennett told reporters during a budget briefing March 13.
Long-range precision fires are one of the Army’s six main priorities as part of its modernization strategy. The priorities also include Next-Generation Combat Vehicle, Future Vertical Lift, network, air and missile defense and soldier lethality. Along with other modernization efforts such as Assured Positioning, Navigation and Timing and the Synthetic Training Environment, the Army plans to invest $13.4 billion in these next-generation technologies in 2024, up from the $10.9 billion in funds enacted in 2023.
“We continue a lot of momentum on our modernization strategy with continued development and procurement of all of our major programs, while increasing our overall investment in capabilities that are relevant to the Indo-Pacific: long-range fires, air defense and deep sensing, as well as logistics in a contested environment,” Undersecretary of the Army Gabe Camarillo said during the budget briefing.
The significant investments into missiles — particularly long-range fires capabilities — and air and missile defense systems underscore the Army’s vision for “future Pacific operations and what sort of capabilities they can provide there,” said Andrew Metrick, a fellow in the Center for a New American Security’s defense program.
“When we say long-range, we're talking about stuff that can reach out from the first island chain,” capabilities such as the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon that would give the service “more meaningful operational reach” in the Indo-Pacific, he said in an interview.
“There's a lot of interesting things going on in non-traditional [areas],” he continued. “They've always been Army areas, but they're not sort of the infantry, helo, armor sort of core three when you think about Army procurement priorities. They’re more in things that … if I were a Joint Force Commander in INDOPACOM, I’d get pretty excited. I’d get excited about Army air and missile defense; I’d get excited about Army fires. It’s not going to win the war for me, but it’s another arrow in my proverbial quiver.”
Another area of significant investment is in platforms within the Next-Generation Combat Vehicle portfolio, which includes platforms such as the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle — the eventual replacement for the M2 Bradley — the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle and the Mobile Protected Firepower. The Army requested nearly $2.7 billion of investment into NGCV platforms for 2024, including “nearly a billion dollars” of research, development, testing and evaluation, or RDT&E, funding for OMFV, Bennett said.
The request for 2024 “includes maturation of OMFV detailed design concepts and material costs for seven prototypes,” according to an Army budget highlights document.
The Army is also looking to ramp up its procurement of the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle and the Mobile Protected Firepower. The 2024 request would see the service acquire 91 AMPVs and 33 MPFs, having been authorized to acquire 43 and 29 in 2023, respectively.
These proposed procurements are a continuation of the “Army’s efforts to heavy up” and “strengthen its armored forces,” Cancian said.
“I think they're looking at Ukraine — and they've been headed in this direction for quite a while,” he said. “They've increased the number of armored brigades; armored brigades have been rotated to Europe. So, I'm not surprised that an existing program like that would be expanded.”
While the war in Ukraine may have influenced the Army’s investment into armored vehicles and long-range fires, the service has asked for increased funding for its Future Vertical Lift program “despite helicopters’ disappointing performance in Ukraine,” Cancian noted.
OMFV and FVL both represent major RDT&E investments in the Army’s 2024 budget request, but the service’s total ask for RDT&E funding is $15.8 billion, notably less than the enacted $17.1 billion budget for 2023.
“Some of it is probably explainable by where things are in their cycles and development,” Metrick said of the reduced RDT&E budget. “Some of it’s probably also explainable by the Army has budget pressures and has recruiting pressures. … The Army is probably culturally going to spend a bit more money on its personnel” compared to the other services.
Indeed, the Army’s 2024 budget request of $65.5 billion for military personnel outpaces those of the Department of the Navy and Department of the Air Force. However, the Army requested an end strength of 452,000 soldiers, which matched the force size enacted in the 2023 NDAA and was 21,000 less than the service’s request last year.
“We did not choose — and nor are we selecting to choose — to reduce the size of the Army in the [fiscal year 2024] submission,” Camarillo said. “We do plan an active duty end strength — we programmed against the requirement of 452,000 — but this reflects our desire over the [Future Years Defense Program] to build our end strength, but there are significant uncertainties regarding the recruiting market.”
Camarillo said the Army is “pulling a significant number of levers and undertaking a significant number of reforms, all of which are resourced in the [fiscal year 2024] budget to help us improve our recruiting performance.” However, “this is not going to be done overnight,” he acknowledged.
“This is something that we see happening across the entire Department of Defense to all services,” he said. “We will continue to innovate and experiment with ways to improve our recruiting performance overall, but this is what we're funding in the [fiscal year 2024] budget.”
Along with the recruiting troubles, there is probably also “top line pressure across the joint equity that would depress Army end strength,” Metrick said.
It has been a decade-plus debate to determine “what Army end strength is, what the right mix of capabilities are,” he said. “Whether you're talking Army end strength, whether you’re talking battlefleet numbers, whether you're talking Air Force squadrons, across the board … the thing the United States really struggles to do is get force size and operational requirements in line,” he said.
Several strategists have advocated for shrinking the Army in order to “pay for air and maritime capabilities in the Pacific,” Cancian said. “Their argument is that the Army has a role in the Pacific, but it's not as large a role because this is mostly an air and naval conflict, so we should cut Army end strength and move that money into air and naval capabilities, and the budget does that.”
As the Army has reduced its end strength, “the force structure is mostly unchanged, and what this means is that the Army’s going to be undermanned,” he said. “I can’t help but think that there are going to be a lot of very hollow units out there.”
Metrick agreed the reduced size could leave the service “hurting … in certain areas.” But while “the Army is shrinking … the Army is also investing in some really vital stuff,” he said.
“The Army is really fighting for relevance in a primarily air and maritime theater in INDOPACOM” and deserves credit for “coming up with some interesting capabilities that definitely … fit within a potential broader joint picture,” he said. “What will be interesting to see over the next five to 10 years — not just the budget cycle — but how that sticks institutionally in the Army, and do you see institutional or cultural change.”