The Pentagon is seen on Oct. 21, 2021.

The Pentagon is seen on Oct. 21, 2021. (Robert H. Reid/Stars and Stripes)

The Pentagon on Monday sent Congress a nearly $850 billion budget request for fiscal 2025 that would invest heavily in technology aimed at countering Chinese military advancements and a pay raise for troops while also shrinking the size of U.S. armed forces.

The $849.8 billion proposed spending plan represents the largest dollar-figure ever sought by the Pentagon, but defense officials noted they would have requested at least $10 billion more if not for spending caps imposed by Congress in 2023. The budget caps — alongside the failure of Congress to pass a 2024 Pentagon budget more than five months into the fiscal year — forced the Defense Department to make “difficult, but responsible, decisions” in many cases, including to cut some 7,800 service members from the active-duty force, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wrote in a statement accompanying the budget rollout.

“This request will bolster our ability to defend our country … [and] it will better posture us to deter aggression against the United States, our allies and partners, while also preparing us to prevail in conflict, if necessary,” Austin wrote, citing the 2023 Fiscal Responsibility Act’s caps. “Our budget request reflects targeted reductions to programs that will deliver key capabilities in later years to support the joint force’s ability to fight and win in the near term.”

The 2025 budget proposal came Monday as the White House rolled out President Joe Biden’s proposed $7.3 billion fiscal 2025 federal spending plan.

Defense officials on Monday blasted the failure of Congress to pass legislation for a defense appropriation for fiscal 2024, which began Oct. 1. The department has operated since then on a series of limited, stopgap spending authorities that largely prohibit the Pentagon from starting new programs — including weapons development or new construction projects — and lock them into fiscal 2023 spending levels. The lack of an annual budget also made building the 2025 budget request unusually difficult, said Kathleen Hicks, the deputy defense secretary, because planners typically make funding decisions based on the most recently approved budget.

The Pentagon has operated under the stopgap budget deals — known as continuing resolutions — for a cumulative five years during the past 15 years, according to the Pentagon.

Hicks said the CRs have forced the Defense Department to operate “with one hand tied behind our backs for month after month,” allowing China, in some areas, to catch up with or pass U.S. military capability.

“The department has no way around that reality,” she told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday. “We need Congress to come together. The world is watching what we do in this moment. It’s tracking whether we can unite and overcome the headwinds facing our national security and our democracy. And our adversaries, in particular, are observing our willingness to step forward for our allies and partners. … This cannot wait. Our nation must meet its responsibility to our forces to pass on-time appropriations so that these goals can be realized.”

In the proposed budget, service members also would see a 4.5% pay boost, and Defense Department civilian employees would see a 2% pay raise. Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord said the smaller pay boost for civilians reflected attempts to “keep costs under control” considering the budget caps.

The plan calls for some $17.5 billion for military construction, including $2 billion for family housing and $2.3 billion for barracks, medical clinics, child development centers and on-post schools.

The budget would cut the Pentagon’s authorized active-duty force from 1,305,400 to 1,267,700 troops as most of the services struggle with recruiting and work toward using more unmanned systems in combat operations.

The bulk of the cuts to troops would come from the Navy, according to budget documents. The sea service would see some 5,000 sailors cut from the active-duty force, leaving it with about 332,300 sailors. The other cuts would come from the Army, which would lose about 2,700 active-duty soldiers leaving it with 442,300 troops.

The Marines would remain the same size with about 172,300 active-duty troops. The Air Force would remain the same size at about 320,000 active-duty airmen. The Space Force would grow by about 300 guardians to a 9,800-troop force.

In all, the Army would get some $185.8 billion in fiscal 2025. The Navy would get $209 billion, and the Marine Corps would receive about $48.6 billion. The Air Force would get some $188 billion, and the Space Force would receive about $29.4 billion.

Among the areas that the Pentagon downsized in its 2025 request were for researching and testing emerging technologies and for buying the latest ready-to-deploy weapons compared to its request one year ago.

The Defense Department is requesting some $167.5 billion for weapons procurement in 2025, down from its $170 billion request last year. The procurement budget would spend some $61.2 billion on air power, including 86 fighter jets, 15 drones and 74 helicopters, and another $41.8 billion on sea power, including six new warships.

Pentagon officials plan to spend some $9.8 billion on hypersonic and long-range subsonic missiles, which they consider some of the most critical munitions to check Chinese military ambitions.

The 2025 budget plan would also spend some $49.2 billon to upgrade the Pentagon’s nuclear enterprise, funding forthcoming programs including the B-21 Raider bomber aircraft, the Columbia-class nuclear submarine and the Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile program. Another $28.4 billion would be invested to bolster U.S. missile defense capabilities, budget documents show.

The department plans to spend $143.2 billion on research, development, testing and evaluations, down from a $145 billion request last year. It proposes spending about $17.2 billion in emerging science and technology and about $1.8 billion on artificial intelligence advancement.

While the Pentagon continues to focus on supporting Ukraine — and defense officials pushed again for the House to approve a Senate-passed defense supplemental with billions in weapons aid for Ukraine — its 2025 budget proposal shows China remains its top concern over other threats such as Russia and transnational terrorism.

The 2025 request includes some $9.9 billion to deterrence operations in the Indo-Pacific, focused largely on countering Chinese aggression in the region. Meanwhile, the request includes some $3.9 billion for its longer-running European deterrence initiative, which is focused on deterring Russian aggression.

For the first time, the Pacific deterrence program includes funding to directly support Taiwan, which fears an invasion from China. The budget request includes about $500 million to support outfitting the island nation. The Pacific funding would also provide increases to ballistic missile defense in Guam, training operations with partner forces in the Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility, and fielding of uncrewed and autonomous systems that military officials consider critical if the United States ended up in a war with China.

The European initiative would fund continued rotations of combat units into Europe to train alongside NATO partners and deter Russia from considering attacking an alliance nation.

Defense officials said those pools of money only include some of the funds that ultimately go toward U.S. efforts to deter Russian and Chinese aggression.

Hicks said the best thing Congress could do to support efforts to deter Russia would be to pass the roughly $95 billion supplemental approved in February by the Senate. That bill would provide billions of dollars of badly needed weapons to Ukraine, aid for Israel and billions in additional money for U.S. troops, including for counter-drone operations in the Middle East.

The supplemental funding would also allow the U.S. military to restore some of the roughly $10 billion hole that it has accumulated in munitions stockpiles from sending aid to Ukraine, Hicks said. She said she could see no other way to recoup those funds outside of the bill, saying the Pentagon was “laser focused” on making the case the supplemental was critical to U.S. national security as well as Ukraine.

House Republicans immediately rejected Biden’s full government budget proposal on Monday. A statement from House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and other Republican leaders labeled the budget fiscally irresponsible and “reckless spending.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the Pentagon budget proposal was too small thanks to the budget caps and vowed to work to improve it.

“Unfortunately, this defense topline number fails to keep pace with inflation and our adversaries,” Rogers said in a statement. “I have been saying this for some time now — our defense budget should be built with the goal of deterring the threats facing our nation. Instead, we are forced to build a budget to meet an arbitrary number. I worry about the long-term impact this budget process will have on our national defense.”

Democrats blamed Republicans for the budget issues. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, backed Biden’s budget proposal as aligning “with the national security and fiscal challenges we face while adhering to the contours of the [budget cap] agreement Republicans demanded.”

Hicks said Pentagon planners intended to build a much larger budget next year when the caps expire, but she said lawmakers must do their part, too.

“I cannot emphasize this enough: We need predictable, adequate, sustained and timely funding. Full stop. We cannot afford any more lost time that we cannot buy back,” Hicks said.

Stars and Stripes reporter Matthew Adams contributed to this report.

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

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