WASHINGTON — The Army's fiscal year 2017 budget request would boost the service's European presence but also sacrifices modernization efforts, particularly in the aviation account.
The Army’s fiscal 2017 base budget would be $123.1 billion with an additional overseas contingency operations (OCO) account of $25 billion, according to a defense official.
This means the Army’s base budget would be down $1.2 billion from the $124.3 billion passed by Congress in fiscal 2016, but OCO is growing by $2 billion to account for funds shifting from the base budget to the OCO account. The move is in line with the two-year bipartisan budget deal reached in Congress in 2015 that took $8 billion out of the Defense Department’s base budget and moved it into the OCO account.
The fiscal 2017 budget request seeks to preserve the Army’s planned end-strength and readiness but significantly cuts Army aviation modernization, the defense official told Defense News prior to the roll-out of President Barack Obama's budget request planned for Tuesday.
The service will also see a big ramp-up in OCO funding for Europe as part of an effort to deter Russia’s military aggression in Eastern Europe and to bolster allies defense capabilities.
Yet, the budget will reveal how much of the OCO dollars for Europe is considered an increase and how is just a reallocation of funding for operations in Europe that already existed, Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter revealed Feb. 2 that Obama is requesting $582.7 billion in funding for the Pentagon. The European Reassurance Initiative (ERI), the umbrella under which funding for European support has been funneled following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014, will be more than quadrupled from 2016, going from $789 million to $3.4 billion for this budget.
And a large chunk of that funding — $2.8 billion — will belong to the Army and will reside in the OCO account, the defense official said. A small amount of funding in the base budget was pushed into OCO for Europe, the official added.
The $2.8 billion is just the beginning, the official noted. “What you are seeing is just a down-payment for the US commitment to securing Europe and getting back in.”
Of the $2.8 billion, $1 billion will go toward putting a "heel-to-toe" armored brigade combat team (ABCT) in theater, so from now on, there will be a Stryker brigade, an infantry brigade and an armored brigade in Europe 24/7 on a rotational basis. Currently, the armored brigade is only in Europe for a couple of months out of the year, the official explained.
As a result, US European Command will look a lot like US Central Command; it will be treated like a long-term contingency operation with long-term commitments to funding.
The funding will also cover more aviation in theater and more partner engagements such as training exercises, but the ABCT will use the biggest portion of the money, the official said.
A total of $1.8 billion of the ERI funding will cover putting prepositioned equipment, such as tanks, back into Europe, the official added.
And more is bound to come in fiscal 2018 to bolster the Army's European presence.
For example, the official said, while not in the fiscal 2017 budget, the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle that BAE Systems is building for the Army could see procurement accelerate in the fiscal 2018 budget through OCO dollars in order to get more modernized equipment to Europe.
But since AMPV is still in the development phase, the official added, that remains a future decision. Yet the Army is now looking at fiscal 2018 options to speed up buying what could eventually total 2,897 vehicles for ABCTs.
CSIS' Harrison noted that AMPV is something to watch in the Army's new five-year plan that will come out with the budget request.
The Army’s biggest expenses in fiscal 2017 are modernization and facilities, the official said. The move comes at no surprise since the service needed to preserve its end-strength numbers and readiness, the Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley’s biggest priority, so what is left vulnerable for cuts is modernization.
Within modernization, Army aviation is taking the biggest punch. “We took a lot of risk in aviation programs,” the official said, adding there was enough head-room in aviation procurement that the Army could slow down its pace to buy aircraft at minimum rates.
Aircraft procurement for helicopters like Black Hawks, which are bound to a multiyear contract with Sikorsky, were reduced to the minimum rate per year so the Army can still get them for a reasonable cost and not breach the contract, the official said. If reductions went much lower the unit cost would rise exponentially.
When it came to cutting facility renovation and military construction plans, those areas “got clobbered” in the fiscal 2017 budget, the official noted.
But there are some programs the Army is protecting in this budget cycle such as the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, the Army’s Humvee replacement. “Whatever we were going to do with that, we are going to do,” the official said. The Army’s Paladin Integrated Management (PIM) program, a new artillery vehicle, is also protected.
Harrison predicted that some Army modernization would even increase, such as the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment 2, the service's battlefield communications network that has taken hits in past budgets while the Army restructured the program.
The Army’s budget request includes some new programs, according to the official, and while important, not a lot of dollars were allocated toward them. A program to integrate Active Protection Systems (APS) onto the Bradley tank is one. And in light of Russia's innovative use of communications jamming on the battlefield in Ukraine, an effort to develop electronic warfare is another new effort and while funding “is not enough” it’s “still a significant start,” the official said.