Pentagon’s $842B proposed budget focuses largely on China as war rages in Ukraine
Stars and Stripes March 13, 2023
The Pentagon on Monday unveiled an $842 billion proposed funding plan for fiscal 2024, asking Congress for its largest-ever budget that emphasizes buying new technology to counter China’s advancing military and increasing production of existing munitions depleted in part by the ongoing war in Ukraine.
The latest budget request was shaped by the Pentagon’s 2022 National Defense Strategy, which defined China as the Defense Department’s primary national security challenge and labeled Russia as a lesser threat, said Kathleen Hicks, the deputy defense secretary. Hicks noted the 2024 budget proposal was influenced by Russia’s year-old war in Ukraine, though it focused more on deterring Chinese capabilities, describing the plan as the “most strategy-aligned budget in history.”
“Our goal is to deter because competition does not mean conflict. Still, we must have the combat credibility to win if we must fight,” Hicks said Monday at the Pentagon. “This budget … puts its thumb on the scale in favor of game-changing capabilities that will deliver not just in the out years but in the near term, too. Our greatest measure of success, and the one we use around here most often, is to make sure the [Chinese] leadership wakes up every day, considers the risks of aggression and concludes that today is not the day. And for them to think that today and every day between now and … 2049 and beyond.”
The Pentagon’s request would add some $26 billion to the record defense budget that Congress provided the military for 2023, after lawmakers added $43 billion to President Joe Biden’s initial fiscal 2023 budget proposal last year. The 2024 request, which provides details within Biden’s $6.8 trillion overall federal budget proposal outlined Friday, was met with mixed reactions from lawmakers, some of whom decried the Pentagon budget plan as too much and others who said it was not enough to deter China.
Pentagon officials said the 2024 budget proposal largely built from the 2023 request, with few major changes. The key difference in the 2024 budget, Hicks said, was a change brought on by observations of the war in Ukraine, which has stressed the U.S. defense industrial base as the Pentagon has shipped weapons and ammunition to aid Ukrainian defenses against invading Russian forces.
In the Pentagon’s 2024 budget submission, defense officials are asking Congress for about $30.6 billion to buy munitions now in its arsenal and a roughly $5.8 billion hike in its munitions procurement budget from 2023. Hicks said some of that funding would help boost production of munitions shipped to Ukraine, such as 155mm artillery shells, though much of it is focused on boosting production of key long-range arms that would be critical in a war in the Pacific.
“This will help us lock in critical investments getting the most bang for the taxpayers’ buck, send industry a clear demand signal and be even better prepared to respond quickly in future contingencies,” Hicks said. “When it comes to munitions, make no mistake, we are buying to the limits of the industrial base, even as we are expanding those limits.”
While the plan continues longstanding efforts to develop new weapons with a $145 billion research, development, testing and evaluation budget, its largest RDT&E request to date, it also seeks to increase purchases of the latest military weapons with the Pentagon largest-ever procurement request of some $170 billion.
Hicks described the boosted procurement effort as a shift from developing new weapons toward fielding the latest battlefield technology in the hands of U.S. troops now.
The procurement budget would spend some $11 billion on new hypersonic and long-range subsonic weapons. It would buy some $61.1 billion of new aircraft, including 107 fighter jets and 108 helicopters. The request also calls for some $48.1 billion to build nine warships, including two destroyers and three submarines.
It would invest some $37.7 billion in nuclear modernization efforts, including development of forthcoming programs: the B-21 Raider bomber aircraft, the Columbia-class nuclear submarine and the Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile program. Another $29.8 billion would be invested to improve missile-defense capabilities, according to budget documents.
Another area where Pentagon officials prioritized China over Russia was in European and Pacific deterrence initiatives. While the Pentagon has funded the European Deterrence Initiative since shortly after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, the Pacific effort was launched only three years ago.
The 2024 budget proposal calls for about $3.6 billion for the ERI, which supports U.S. efforts to bolster NATO against Russian aggression on the Continent. Meanwhile, the budget proposes some $9.1 billion for the PRI, a 40% boost in Pacific deterrence funding from 2023.
The $9.1 billion includes new defenses for Guam and Hawaii, new missile-warning systems and construction of hardened structures in the region. It also funds increased training with partners in the Pacific region.
Meanwhile, Pentagon officials said the budget sought to improve quality-of-life issues for troops, their families and Defense Department civilian employees.
The 2024 budget would provide a 5.2% pay boost for military and civilian workers. The raise would be the largest for troops in two decades and the steepest for civilian workers in 40 years.
It includes new funding to provide universal pre-kindergarten programs at all Defense Department schools across the globe, and it includes some $16.7 billion for facilities improvements, including $1.9 billion for family housing projects.
The budget would fund an active-duty force of 1,317,067 service members, an increase of about 9,000 troops from 2023. The Navy and Air Force would see the largest end-strength increases, with the Navy adding 5,200 sailors to reach about 344,441 active-duty troops, and the Air Force adding more than 2,800 airmen to reach 324,363.
The Army would remain roughly the same size with about 452,000 active-duty soldiers. The Marine Corps and Space Force would each receive modest boosts, under the budget request. The Marine Corps would add about 150 Marines to reach an about 172,300 active-duty force. The Space Force would increase by about 800 active-duty guardians to reach 8,061 troops in 2024.
In all, the Army would get some $185.3 billion in fiscal 2024. The Navy would get $202.6 billion, and the Marine Corps would receive about $53.2 billion. The Air Force would get some $185.1 billion, and the Space Force would receive about $30 billion.
Key lawmakers on Friday signaled the Pentagon budget would likely face large alterations as they craft the legislation to provide the military its fiscal 2024 funding. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the budget request “strong,” labeling it a good starting point for forthcoming negotiations, and the top Republican on the committee, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, labeled it “woefully inadequate and disappointing.”
In a warning Monday to lawmakers, Hicks encouraged Congress to pass a Pentagon budget before the fiscal year begins Oct. 1 for the first time in years. In recent years, Congress has often relied on continuing resolutions to fund the Pentagon through the first several months of fiscal years while it ironed out a final budget. Continuing resolutions allow the Defense Department to operate at the previous year’s funding but stop Pentagon officials from beginning new programs and often halt things such as training exercises and military moves. Congress passed the Pentagon’s fiscal 2023 budget in December.
“We cannot have one hand tied behind our back for 3, 4, 5, 6 months of each year,” Hicks said. “And let me assure you more money cannot buy back this last time.
“I know members of Congress on both sides of the aisle care deeply about America's national security and winning the strategic competition for the 21st century. With this budget and with Congress's support, we're ensuring the U.S. military remains formidable and resilient — today, tomorrow and well into the future.”