President Trump’s Defense Budget: Campaign Promises

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Where the Rubber Hits the Road

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It’s that time of year again when people get excited. No, not Valentine’s Day, it’s when the President releases his budget. This is the beginning of a long process but it’s important as it sets the tone. The House and Senate will create their own budgets, but it starts with this framework established by President Trump.

This article focuses on how this budget addresses the Department of Defense requests and promises Trump made during his 2016 presidential campaign. To provide context, the current budget is a decrease of $12.6 billion from the 2020 President’s budget that requested $718 billion. This budget requests $705.4 billion for DOD, including $636.4 billion for the base budget and $69 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). The Budget reflects a $0.8 billion increase above the 2020 enacted level for base and OCO. In general, this budget addresses a lot of concerns, not just in continuing to erase the damage of sequestration, but also in replacing cold-war technology and equipment to better match emerging threats. 

The Details as Laid Out By Branch: the Army

Let’s look first at the largest force, the United States Army. Recently the Secretary of the Army stated that over the last three years the budget was used to increase the number of combat ready brigades from two to 26. This returns the force to being able to fight on two or three conflict areas simultaneously. With full equipment readiness, a necessity.

Improves Ground Combat Lethality: The Budget provides significant funding to improve the lethality of ground combat capabilities. This includes nearly $11 billion to fund modernization of long-range precision artillery, combat vehicles and helicopters, command and control networks, air and missile defense, and close combat training and equipment. The Budget also provides over $3 billion to support the modernization of one armored brigade combat team per year. Further, the Budget prioritizes the development of next generation combat systems over the continuing of Cold War-era legacy platforms. This delivers greater firepower for high-intensity combat. 

Want to know what it costs to give the Soldiers in a Brigade Combat Team the best chance of survival and mission completion capability? The answer follows: “the budget also provides over $3 billion to support the modernization of one armored brigade combat team per year.” Prudence is the operative word for this service in reaching the goal of 34 Combat ready brigades. Of note, is the Army’s current request  is $2 billion less than last year. 

More than half of the budget is attributed to personnel. This year’s $62.5 billion request for personnel is an increase of $2.8 billion over FY20’s enacted budget. This according to Maj. Gen. Paul Chamberlain, Army budget director in the Office of Assistant Secretary of the Army for Financial Management and Comptroller.

“Our people are our greatest strength and our most important weapons system, our people will deliver on our readiness, modernization and reform efforts. The Army stands ready to deploy, fight and win our nation’s battles.”

Major General Paul Chamberlain, US Army

This has greatly improved our national security. He also stated: “In FY19, the Army exceeded its adjusted end-strength goals, the Army, therefore, adjusted the FY20 active-component end-strength to 485,000 Soldiers. In FY21, the Army will up its active end-strength to 485,900.” As the end-strength number has now changed, this promise is kept.

The Navy

The Navy is requesting $207.1 billion (combined with the Marines). This has reduced its shipbuilding accounts by $4 billion in this year’s budget. This reflects a $2.9 billion decrease from 2020. This budget delivers “capable capacity within the constraints of our budget top line,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Budget Rear Adm. Randy B. Crites.

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According to Crites, we are moving from 293 battle force ships today to 306 by the end of fiscal year 2021. The United States Navy is requesting another 10 new ships while retiring six, building toward the their goal of 355 by 2035. Trump’s campaign promise was to rebuild the navy to 350 surface ships.  Another promise delivered on.

The Air Force

U.S. Air Force request is approximately $168.9 billion dollars, an increase of $856 from last year. Of which $15.4 billion is being transferred to the U.S. Space Force. Although they are lowering their end-strength they are requesting 115 New Fighters, and replacing the outdated KC-35 tankers with 15 new KC-46 tankers. This increases effectiveness.

They “continue recapping legacy fighter aircraft with F-15EX aircraft, which are significantly more capable and cost-effective than the F-15C they will replace.” Trump’s promise to rebuild the Air Force to 1200 fighters has been met, as they currently have 1377 in their inventory. This promise is now kept as well. This budget does well by the Air Force.

The Marines

The Marines have taken a different approach. Instead of continuing toward their initial goal of reaching 36 Battalions, they are reducing their overall strength. This year’s request is a reduction from non-combatant units, mainly Headquarters elements. There are also many interesting items in their budget.

Such as a reduction of 512 Joint Tactical vehicles over last year. Which is brilliant, as each piece of equipment will have costs associated with it. Some of that savings will be going to their R&D ($2.7 billion). They are also thinking ahead by replacing the Marine One Presidential Helicopters.

Speaking of helicopters, they are requesting seven CH-53K King Stallions, as they are the only ship-board compatible helicopter. These will replace the CH-53E, which have been in service since the 1980’s. The Marines are also requesting 10 F-35B Joint Strike Fighters, a decrease from 16 requested in 2020. These are the aircraft that have a short take-off and vertical landing capability.

Overall Assessment

The President’s budget for 2021 has the hallmarks of a great budget. By giving the services what they requested, identifying cost savings, reducing the overall budget and still replacing old tech and worn out equipment. Two of the items that are proving their worth are the long-term decisions to build joint fighters and vehicles. Therefore they have “commonality of parts” which is a realization of lessons learned from the Desert Storm/Gulf War era.

COL Mike FitzGerald (Ret)
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