The Trump administration’s priorities, as spelled out in the fiscal year 2019 defense spending budget, would help accomplish four goals: fixing readiness, increasing modernization, increasing capabilities, and modestly expanding force structure.
Doing so would require important tradeoffs and faces several obstacles that could hinder it, according to a white paper published Nov. 2 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
Even with the 14-percent increase in spending for 2019 when compared to 2017, the budget essentially remains flat, wrote the report’s author, Mark F. Cancian, a senior international security adviser at CSIS. Paying for the initiative still required internal offsets.
“The choices showed that there is no escaping the tradeoff among readiness, modernization, and force structure,” Cancian wrote. “The Trump administration, like the Obama administration before it, has clearly chosen modernization (capability) over force structure (capacity), but the press of operational demands is pushing the services towards a high-low mix to cover both.”
The strategy is flawed in four areas, Cancian wrote. Nothing among the budget, forces and programs changed as much as it should have. Also, more force structure expansion is needed. The strategy also focuses too much on conflict among great powers and not enough on terrorism. Additionally, it was “too forward engaged,” he wrote.
Future risks are at play as well. Budgets would need to grow before new initiatives could begin. The possibility of caps outlined in the 2011 Budget Control Act could render the entire plan unachievable. Weaker public and political support also could squelch the plan.
Each service would be affected by the plan’s successes or failures, Cancian wrote.
For the Army, plans to increase active-duty strength to 495,000 soldiers while calling for modest increases in the reserve component might not best improve readiness. Also, the service’s modernization plans are beset by delays in introducing new systems that “would take it into the 2020s and beyond,” Cancian wrote.
The Navy’s plan to reach a fleet of 342 ships by the late 2030s must be balanced with current high demands in “day-to-day operations and the long lead times and high capital costs for its weapons systems,” Cancian wrote.
The Marine Corps, which Cancian cited as traditionally emerging from conflicts with increased strength, is facing flat growth. Moreover, while the new strategy focuses on training for “heavy combat,” the Marines are “light, trained for crisis response missions and peacetime engagement, and in high demand by combatant commanders,” Cancian wrote.
The Air Force’s high operations tempo requires the service to keep aging aircraft such as the A-10, F-16 and F-15 in the inventory. The slow introductions of new aircraft like the F-35 and KC-46 aerial tanker exacerbate the issue. More details about Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson’s call for a 25-percent increase in strength also require more details, Cancian wrote.