WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army will not be able to put $5.3 billion toward modernization efforts key to competing with China if Congress doesn’t pass a budget this year, the service secretary said in a Wednesday House Armed Services Committee hearing.

The Pentagon has become accustomed to short-term continuing resolutions early in the fiscal year and generally schedules less programmatic activity in the first quarter of the fiscal year. A continuing resolution allows funding to continue without a budget in place, but holds spending to the previous fiscal year’s levels.

But there are new concerns, with Congress divided over the debt ceiling and spending, that a full-year CR is a possibility.

Asked how a CR would impact the Army, Secretary Christine Wormuth said “it would be, I think, a significant problem for us, first of all, at a time where we are competing against China.”

A CR means “fighting with one hand tied behind our back. A CR would essentially tie down about $5.3 billion in terms of procurement programs,” she added.

Without an approved fiscal 2024 budget, the Army would not be able to start at least 10 new procurement programs and would not be able to launch dozens of research, development and testing efforts.

The Army’s biggest modernization push in 40 years is underway, as the service is poised to deliver to soldiers roughly 24 systems in 2023. It’s seeking to procure 36 new systems by 2030 for a fully modernized force.

“We are often criticized for being slow in modernization,” Army Chief of Staff James McConville said at the same hearing. “But right now we have the opportunity to transform the Army … and new start production increases — those things don’t happen under a CR.”

Additionally, a continuing resolution would halt planned pay raises for troops, Wormuth added, and would delay parts of a major organic industrial base overhaul, including an effort to modernize and ramp up ammunition production vital to supplying the war in Ukraine and replenishing Army stock.

The Army plans to spend $1.5 billion for modernization efforts at depots and plants in FY24.

The service requested a $185.5 billion budget in FY24, 4.6% more than the Army’s $178 billion budget last year. Taking into account inflation, the Army’s FY24 budget is about 2% below the funding enacted for FY23, Maj. Gen. Mark Bennett, the service’s budget director, said last month.

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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