Jeff Martin breaks down five things that Defense News learned from the Pentagon's fiscal 2020 defense budget request.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is asking for about $190 billion in fiscal 2020, an increase of roughly $8 billion above last year’s budget top line, which will cover the cost of the advent of an ambitious modernization plan, a defense official told Defense News ahead of the White House’s FY20 budget request release.

Breaking that top line down, the service is requesting roughly $120 billion in its base budget and then another $31 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations-for-base funding. The Army is asking for another $30 billion in traditional OCO funding — which is the account used to pay for wartime operations in theater — and another $10 billion to cover emergency funds, according to the source.

The budget is expected to be officially released March 12.

OCO-for-base funding is money that could be in the base budget, but is classified as OCO for the purpose of getting around statutory budget caps imposed by the Budget Control Act. Both Congress and the Pentagon have relied on OCO as a workaround for the budget caps in the past.

The Army’s request will be a part of the roughly $718 billion budget request the Pentagon will submit to Congress next week.The Defense Department plans to ask for $545 billion in the base budget, roughly $100 billion in OCO-for-base funding, about $64 billion in OCO dollars and approximately $9 billion in “emergency” funding that could be used to cover funding gaps in military construction that result from President Donald Trump’s move to use an emergency declaration to fund a wall at the United States’ southern border.

While last year’s Army budget request saw an enormous $13 billion increase above the FY18 funding levels in order to recover from readiness decrements and fill out capability gaps, this budget builds upon the service’s big push to modernize its force significantly by 2028.

Force size

The Army’s yearly end-strength numbers, however, will slow, according to the official. The plan is to increase troop numbers by 2,000 a year.

Last year, at the time of the budget release, the active force size was 483,500 with a plan to increase the end-strength steadily by 4,000 a year for three years, ultimately reaching a force of 495,500 by 2021.

But after a bad recruiting year, the Army is slowing its growth to match the market, according to the official. The Army anticipates reaching 478,000 active troops by the end of this year.

The service will also spend the next 12 to 18 months studying force structure that could lead to big changes, but no major upheaval is afoot in FY20 or even in FY21, the official said.

Modernization money

Coming as no surprise, the Army’s biggest budget boosts will be in the Research, Development and Acquisition accounts.

The Army is requesting an additional $1 billion in the Research, Development, Test & Evaluation account for a total of $12.2 billion.

On the procurement side, the Army is cutting a sliver — roughly $200 million — for a total of $21.8 billion, mostly because the service is focused on prototyping future systems ahead of buying new equipment. Along with that is a plan to slow the procurement and upgrades of legacy systems.

The service has been holding what has been called “night court,” or a series of “deep dives” to assess how essential existing programs are compared to the service’s radical modernization goals throughout FY18. The Army found roughly $31 billion through the process of cutting and terminating existing programs and in future cost avoidance to apply to its new priorities.

According to Army leadership, if programs or activities didn’t fit in the top six modernization priorities the service laid out a year ago, then the programs could go, freeing up dollars to priorities.

The Army announced in 2017 at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference that it planned to stand up Army Futures Command, a new four-star organization tasked to push forward efforts within its priorities list that will modernize the Army by 2028. The six modernization priorities are Long-Range Precision Fires, Next-Generation Combat Vehicle, Future Vertical Lift, the network, air-and-missile defense, and soldier lethality.

To the uninitiated it will be difficult to see terminations of programs in the FY20 budget as much of the possible legacy system terminations will happen in the outyears as development progresses within the six priorities, according to the official.

Some legacy programs will see reductions in FY20, but the Army’s budget request and five-year budget plan attempts to leave options open.

A couple of major programs — the CH-47 F-model Chinook cargo helicopter and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle — will see funding reductions specifically in FY20, the official confirmed.

To replace those legacy program reductions, the Army is requesting to fully fund — across the five year plan — two new helicopter programs, a medium-lift, long range assault helicopter and an attack reconnaissance aircraft, relatively back-to-back, the official said. And more funding is also being requested for the NGCV, which would replace the Bradley.

The Army has also plussed-up funding in FY20 for the new Integrated Vision Augmentation System for the Infantry, which fits in the Soldier Lethality category.

The official explained that if something doesn’t pan out as part of major modernization efforts, then the budget can again be amended to keep legacy systems longer. For example, if the Army determines it’s better to just continue to upgrade the Bradley rather than procure a new NGCV, then it will adjust funding based on that decision.

Overall, the Army has more than doubled the funding across the six modernization priorities in its five year budget plan from $24.2 billion in the FY19 request to $57 billion in FY20.

Army abroad

The Army is also funding two large exercises in FY20 in Europe and the Pacific —dubbed Defender Europe and Defender Pacific.

The service’s portion of the European Deterrence Initiative — or EDI — will hold steady, according to the official.

But the overall Pentagon budget request for EDI will drop moderately after several dramatic plus-ups in previous years.

The operations and maintenance account remains virtually level in the FY20 request, increasing from $50 billion to $52 billion to account for inflation.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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