WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s fiscal 2020 budget request includes increases in research and development, a cut to science and technology, and major investments geared toward the much-ballyhooed return to great power competition.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has repeatedly referred to the FY20 budget as the “masterpiece” document that has been shaped by conclusions based on a series of long-term strategies including the National Defense Strategy, the Nuclear Posture Review and the Missile Defense Review.
But with Congress already expressing skepticism about the budget proposal, due in part to its reliance on $164 billion in overseas contingency operations, or OCO, funding, the department’s “masterpiece” may be in trouble before it gets out of the gate.
The inclusion of $9.2 billion in “emergency” funding — which officials confirm will be used to backfill military construction dollars taken from FY19 appropriations to build a wall on the southern border, as well as build new construction along that border — only complicates matters. Up to $3.6 billion of that emergency funding is being eyed to backfill those costs.
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Asked about whether the budget was dead on arrival, a senior defense official said the inclusion of the emergency fund and the amount of OCO funding was done with guidance from the Office of Management and Budget, and the official expressed hope Congress would work with the department going forward.
“When the department is looking at our budget, as is mentioned, we’re looking at it as a whole. This is the budget that we need to accomplish the National Defense Strategy," the official said. “What we’ve done is try to provide as much transparency as possible so that we can work in partnership with Congress on having them understand what’s where and they can do their important oversight role based on the information we give them.”
Still, the budget — $750 billion in total for national security, with $718 billion of that going directly to the Pentagon — contains a number of investments in high-end capabilities.
Of the $718 billion, $104.3 billion goes to research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) activities; $155.8 billion goes to military personnel accounts, $143.1 billion goes to procurement; $292.7 billion goes to operations and maintenance; and $22.5 billion goes to military construction and family housing.
Broken down by department, $205.6 billion goes to the Navy, a $9.95 billion increase from FY19; $204.8 billion goes to the Air Force, an $11.8 billion increase; $191.4 billion goes to the Army, a $12.5 billion increase; and $116.6 billion goes to defensewide efforts, a decrease of $930 million.
The Army’s figure appears to include the $9.2 billion in emergency funds as part of the service’s budget, making its increase significantly less than the other services at a time when the Pentagon is turning away from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and moving to potential conflict with Russia and China.
Included in the contingency funding are two flavors of OCO: $66 billion in traditional OCO dollars for war-fighting needs, and $98 billion in OCO-for-base funds — essentially, money that could be in the base budget but is classified as OCO for the purpose of skirting statutory budget caps imposed by the Budget Control Act.
Looking to the future, the Pentagon projects a defense top line of $713 billion in FY21, including $62 billion in OCO funding and $94 billion in OCO-for-base funds; $727 billion in FY22, including $20 billion in OCO; $742 billion in FY23, including $20 billion in OCO; and $747 billion in FY24, including $10 billion in OCO.
While the Pentagon’s budget has increased, the State Department’s budget request dropped by a staggering 23 percent. Asked about that discrepancy Tuesday morning, Shanahan expressed confidence in his colleagues at the State Department.
“I spoke with Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo this week. He’s confident that he’ll have the resources that he needs to perform his duties,” Shanahan told the pool report from Task & Purpose.
Major investment areas
The Pentagon plans investments in the following primary areas:
- Air domain: $57.7 billion, including 110 fourth- and fifth-generation fighters, and 12 KC-46 tankers.
- Maritime domain: $34.7 billion, including $447 million for large unmanned surface vehicles, and three Virginia-class submarines for $10.2 billion.
- Land domain: $14.6 billion, including 6,402 combat and tactical motorized vehicles for $7.2 billion, and 4,090 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles at $1.6 billion.
- Missile defense: $13.6 billion, including $1.7 billion for ground-based missile defenses, and $174 million for space-based missile warning systems.
- Nuclear enterprise: $14 billion, including $570 million for the B-21 bomber, $712 million for the Long Range Standoff Weapon and $2.2 billion for the Columbia-class submarine. That number does not include nuclear costs for warheads managed by the National Nuclear Security Administration.
- Special operations: $3.4 billion, including increases to end strength and technology such as the AC/MC-130J at $342.8 million and directed energy to the tune of $27.2 million.
The Pentagon is investing $104.3 billion in RDT&E, a roughly $9 billion increase over what was previously enacted.
Included in that total is $3.7 billion for unmanned and autonomous technologies, including the development of “offensive-armed Unmanned Surface Vessels”; $2.6 billion for hypersonic weapons; $927 million for artificial intelligence, including through the controversial Project Maven; and $235 million for directed-energy development, including implementation of the technology for base defense.
Also included is $14.1 billion for science and technology investments — a $1.5 billion drop from the budget enacted in FY19, although a raise from the requested FY19 budget. That includes $2.3 billion for basic research, $5.3 billion for applied research and $6.5 billion for advanced technology development.
The Pentagon’s cyberspace activities budget comes in at $9.6 billion, a 10 percent increase over last year.
For space, the total is $14.1 billion, a roughly 15 percent increase over last year. Included in that total is $72.4 million to stand up the Space Force, $83.8 million to stand up U.S. Space Command and $149.8 million to stand up the Space Development Agency.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.