WASHINGTON ― U.S. President Joe Biden’s first budget request for the Department of Defense slashes procurement by $8 billion, whacking scores of legacy weapons and systems as a way to deliver a $5.5 billion boost for the development and testing of cutting-edge technologies that could deter China.
The $715 billion Pentagon request for fiscal 2022, which was sent to Congress Friday, represents an $11 billion increase and trails the rate of inflation. A big chunk is what Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has called the “largest ever” request for research, development, test and evaluation funding. The White House has proposed $112 billion in that area, a 5 percent increase.
On the flip side, procurement funding, the purchasing accounts used to buy new equipment, would fall nearly 6 percent to $133.6 billion. The budget would reclaim $2.4 billion in “defense reforms” and $2.8 billion from “divestments,” to include the retirements of A-10, F-15 and F-16 tactical aircraft and the decommissioning of Navy vessels to include four littoral combat ships and two cruisers.
The budget request contains $5.1 billion flagged “Pacific Deterrence Initiative,” with the lion’s share, or $4.9 billion, for joint force lethality, $150 million for exercises, experimentation and innovation, and $23 million for force design and posture. Lethality-wise, the account covers increased investments in the Tomahawk and Standard Missile 6; land-based conventional fires exceeding the 500 km-limit of the defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and hypersonic weapons like the Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike capability.
“The budget also documents some of the tough choices we had to make, as we lessen our reliance on vulnerable systems that are no longer suited for today’s advanced-threat environment, or are too costly to sustain,” Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said Friday. “Critically, we reallocate resources to fund research and development in advanced technologies such as microelectronics. This will provide the foundation for fielding a full range of needed capabilities, such as hypersonic missiles, artificial intelligence, and 5G.”
The service budget top-lines are $174 billion for the Army, a drop of $1.5 billion from FY21 enacted levels; $207 billion for the Navy, a $4.6 billion jump, and $204 billion for the Air Force, a $8.8 billion hike. Within the Air Force figure, the Space Force rises from $15.4 billion to $17.5 billion.
Though defense officials have said the department’s focus on China fueled increases for the Navy and Air Force, Austin and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley told lawmakers Thursday that the Army was not intended as the “bill payer” for the other services. They stressed that the budget fully funds the Army’s six modernization priorities and that all the services need to make tough choices about what they’ll need for a future fight.
Congress usually revises presidential budget submissions substantially before passing them into law, and lawmakers are already grumbling at the idea of retiring working platforms for the promise of future technologies. Since the budget outlines were released weeks ago, lead Republicans have said the country needs an increase of 3-5 percent over inflation to counter China’s growing military, and they plan to press for increases.
“President Biden’s defense budget request is wholly inadequate — it’s nowhere near enough to give our service members the resources, equipment and training they need,” Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and his House counterpart, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said in a statement. “It’s disingenuous to call this request an increase because it doesn’t even keep up with inflation — it’s a cut.”
Budget documents touted several “advanced capability enablers,” including microelectronics (funded at $2.3 billion), artificial intelligence ($874 million) and 5G networking ($398 million), as well as hypersonics ($3.8 billion). The hypersonics funding would field more Army Long Range Hypersonic Weapon batteries, add DDG 1000 destroyers as launch platforms for more Navy Conventional Prompt Strike weapons and start buying the Air Force’s Advanced Rapid Response Weapon.
“We are trying right now to put down payments on investments that are going to pay huge dividends, five, 10, 15 years from now, for a future force that will be able to compete successfully with any adversary out there, to include China,” Milley said Thursday.
Hypersonic weapons have been at the heart of America’s race with China and Russia, which are arguably ahead. The Pentagon has been pursuing two main types of hypersonic weapons: a hypersonic glide vehicle, which is launched from a rocket, and a hypersonic cruise missile capable of being launched from a fighter jet or bomber.
The forward leaning focus also includes full funding for modernizing all three legs of the nuclear triad, with $27.7 billion for the nuclear enterprise. That includes the Columbia-class submarine, B-21 bomber, long-range standoff weapon and next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile known as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent.
Missing from the budget request are top-line projections over the Future Years Defense Program, or FYDP, making the request something of a placeholder as the new administration begins its major Global Posture Review and, eventually a National Defense Strategy.
The China focus, legacy system cuts, future focus and robust nuclear spending, are all themes from then-President Donald Trump’s last budget, for fiscal 2021.
Also in line with Trump budget projections, Biden’s request rolls the wartime account known as OCO, often criticized as a slush fund, into the base budget.
OCO is a complicated category, and the proposal splits it between actual “direct war requirements” (which fell by $5.6 billion to $14.3 billion) and “OCO for base” and “enduring” requirements (which together fell by $21.7 billion).
Though the savings could ostensibly be available to other priorities, defense officials said the actual amount is in flux as the administration crafts plans to field an over-the-horizon counter-terror capability for Afghanistan, and meant to deter Iran.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.