The Trump Administration’s FY 2018 Defense Budget in Context
(Source: CSBA; issued August 3, 2017)
By Katherine Blakeley
Far From an Historic Increase

Strengthening the U.S. military was one of the key themes of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. After saying that “our military is a disaster,” and “depleted,” he colorfully promised to make the U.S. armed forces “so big, so powerful, so strong, that nobody—absolutely nobody—is gonna mess with us.”[1]

Trump painted his plans in bold strokes: increasing the size of the Army to 540,000 soldiers; adding 20,000 Marines; bringing the Air Force to at least 1,200 combat aircraft; and increasing the Navy to a fleet of some 350 ships. Funding this force structure buildup would require roughly $200 billion more over five years than envisioned in the Obama administration’s 2017 defense plan.

Getting just the Navy to its promised force structure of 355 ships would require an extra $5.5 billion annually over current shipbuilding funding.[2] Achieving these force structure levels would require funding increases that are more than double the Trump administration’s proposal for $18.5 billion over the PB 2017 projections for FY 2018, or an additional $40 billion annually over the PB 2017 Future Years Defense Program (FYDP).[3]

President Trump painted his proposed $603 billion national defense budget as “historic,” focusing on the requested 9.4 percent increase over the Obama administration’s request for FY 2017 and 10 percent increase over the BCA caps for FY 2018.[4]

However, even against this more generous yardstick than the 3 percent increase over the $584.5 billion in national defense funding projected for FY 2018, the requested $603 billion is far short of an historic increase. There have been year-over-year increases in total national defense spending of 10 percent or more ten times between FY 1977 and FY 2017, largely during the Carter–Reagan buildup of the early 1980s and again during the ramping up to the Iraq war in the early 2000s (see Figure 2-1).


Click here for the full report (15 PDF pages) on the CSBA website.


(EDITOR’S NOTE: The obvious difference is that, today, the US is not invading two South Asian countries, as it did in the early 2000s, nor reversing a long military decline, as in the early 1980s.)

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