In his first address to Congress on February 28, President Trump promised to send “a budget that rebuilds the military, eliminates the Defense [Department budget] sequester, and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.” Later, in Newport News aboard the Navy’s newest supercarrier, the U.S.S. Gerald Ford, he also promised that “we will have the finest equipment in the world.” These are worthy and overdue objectives; unfortunately, his proposed $603 billion defense budget will not go far enough toward achieving them.
Our troops have been engaged in continuous overseas conflict for more than 15 years. For the last five years, they have done so under the funding limitations, stopgap measures, and planning uncertainty rooted in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA). Civilian and uniformed military leaders have acknowledged that inadequate and uncertain budgets have forced our military to raid long-term investment accounts as they’ve sought to keep our deployed forces ready. This shortsighted approach has been forced on them by necessity, but those bills are now due. If we’re going to rebuild our military we’re going to have to invest considerably more than either the BCA-constrained $549 billion now programmed for fiscal year 2018, or the president’s proposed $603 billion.
Over the next decade, the new F-35 fighter and the KC-46 refueling tanker will be ramping up to full production at the same time as the U.S. modernizes its nuclear triad (ballistic missile submarines, long-range bombers and land-based strategic missiles) and missile defense capabilities. Thousands of ground vehicles worn out from twenty years of continuous deployment will need to be replaced. According to a recent study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, just the Services’ top ten modernization programs could cost as much as $700 billion over the next fifteen years. While the president’s proposal of $603 billion is a step forward, it is too slow a start toward ensuring that our warfighters never go into a fair fight against today’s growing and evolving threats.
The world is an increasingly dangerous place. Today, the U.S. faces widespread global terrorism, Russian aggression on NATO’s doorstep, provocation by Iran and North Korea, and an increasingly capable and assertive China. America’s most capable potential adversaries have made huge strides in their offensive and defensive capabilities, from submarines to cyberspace, and they continue to invest in advanced research and development and sophisticated operational concepts at a rapid pace.
At its current level of funding, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) will neither be able to afford the modernization programs necessary to ensure our national security into the future, nor address readiness levels dictated by its current operational tempo. There must be an unambiguous signal sent that America is prepared to secure its interests around the world.
AIA supports raising the base defense budget to at least $640 billion in FY2018, as proposed by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in his FY2012 defense budget plan, and by both Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) in their recent proposals for FY2018 defense spending. This level of increase would represent a far more meaningful commitment to our troops, our citizens, our allies – and our adversaries – that we intend to restore American military superiority.
The Constitution clearly establishes national security as the foremost responsibility of the federal government. President Trump clearly understands this, promising in his address to Congress that “to keep America safe, we must provide the men and women of the United States military with the tools they need to prevent war.” We call on Trump and Congress to fulfill both their promises and their constitutional duty and provide for the common defense by making robust and sustained investment in America’s armed forces – beginning with $640 billion in base defense spending in fiscal year 2018.