WASHINGTON — As the Trump administration and Congress deliberate the Defense Department’s top-line budget for fiscal 2020, safeguarding the military’s weapons programs and funding technology development is taking precedence over growing the force, the Pentagon’s No. 2 official said Thursday.

“At the end of the day, the national defense strategy puts a priority on modernization,” Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters Dec. 13. “The trick then becomes, when you talk about force structure, how much risk do you take given the world’s environment?”

Shanahan’s comments come at a time of back-and-forth between President Donald Trump, Defense Department leadership and Congress about the size of the FY20 defense budget.

Pentagon budget makers had been planning for a $733 billion budget request — a modest increase over the $716 billion budget for FY19 — when Trump announced in October that the Defense Department’s budget would instead be cut to $700 billion. The move surprised many, as Trump had frequently touted his administration’s efforts to grow the size of the military and invest in new defense technology.

The announcement raised questions about what the Pentagon would have to cut in order to meet the lower number, but it appears that those concerns may have been premature. Earlier this week, Politico and other outlets reported that congressional Republicans and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had convinced Trump to raise the top line to $750 billion.

Shanahan on Thursday downplayed the reports, saying that a final top line had yet to be determined.

"We’re looking at numbers above $733 [billion], and as you know, we looked at numbers below $733 [billion]. I think everybody recognizes that this is a discussion that will go on in terms of what is the right number. The process we have is very robust,” he said.

No matter what the top line ends up looking like, the goal will be “anchor[ing] line items to the National Defense Strategy. That’s the rigor we put in place,” he added.

With a top line above $733 billion, it’s possible the Defense Department will be able to grow both its modernization accounts as well as funding for improving readiness and increasing force structure.

But Shanahan, who spoke at a National Defense Industrial Association event on hypersonics on Thursday, tried to quell defense contractors’ concerns that funding for hypersonic technologies, and science and technology development in general, could suffer under a budget that rings in at $733 billion or below.

Asked by one Lockheed Martin employee whether funding for hypersonics programs would remain reliable in light of budgetary fluctuations, Shanahan said his level of confidence was high it would.

“We’ve prioritized amortization,” he said.

Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.

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