WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is bracing for a possible large budget cut in fiscal 2022, a defense official told Defense News.
The service is preparing contingencies should it face a “huge cut,” which means the Army would potentially have to put modernization and readiness “at risk,” the official said.
The Army would need to look at ways to more effectively maintain readiness and would possibly have to slow-roll development and procurement schedules for major modernization efforts the service sees as critical to deterring adversaries in the future.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville has already said the service will not be able to grow its end-strength should its budget stay level or shrink; more likely a force would remain at a level similar to the numbers now. The current troop count is about 486,000 in the active force and a little more than a million in the total force.
“When it comes to what chiefs have to grapple with in a budget, it’s end strength and structure, it’s readiness, and it’s modernization. Those are the three kind of big resource buckets we have,” Gen. James McConville said at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force Next symposium, held virtually last month.
The service has also spent several years working a process that has allowed the shifting of billions of dollars from elsewhere in its budget into modernization efforts, but each year it gets tougher to find money to move over to priority programs.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s FY22 budget request asks for $753 billion in national security funding, an increase of 1.6 percent that includes $715 billion for the Defense Department. This amounts to a slight decrease for the Pentagon when adjusted for inflation and falls short of the Trump administration’s projected $722 billion request for FY22.
The release of the full budget request, where the Army’s top line will be revealed, has already been postponed deep into May, according to some sources. The Trump administration released its first budget request — the FY18 request — in late May 2017. Typically, the budget request is released in February although it has varied year to year.
In recent years, the Army has enjoyed a budget that allowed it to drastically improve its readiness and launch a major campaign to modernize.
But many in the defense policy community are predicting the Army will become the bill-payer for the other services’ ambitions such as a big increase in ships for the Navy.
Jockeying for money among the services aside, the first budget of the Biden administration is further complicated by the fact it will have to come before the Pentagon finishes major analysis on global force posture and before the China Task Force has issued its findings that would help the DoD plan what it needs to go up against China, which the U.S. military considers its pacing threat.
These decisions will make a difference in each of the services’ budgets.
Pursuing a radically new budget or future-years plan ahead of such major analysis is very difficult, according to the defense official.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.