DoD budget largely flat, cuts legacy systems for modernization

The budget gets rid of the overseas contingency operations account and divests $2.8 billion in legacy systems.

The White House is requesting $715 billion for the Defense Department in 2022, in a budget that plans to capitalize on funds from the Afghanistan withdrawal, and divestitures from some ships and aircraft — to prioritize modernization.

The budget reflects a growing trend of cutting fat from the military so it can move into a better position to counter the growing prevalence of China and, to a lesser extent, Russia.

The White House request is largely flat compared to President Donald Trump’s last budget for 2021, which totaled about $705 billion. However, the shifting underneath the topline gives more money to things like cyber, space and other future technologies.

The Biden administration is doing away with the controversial Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, a fund that was originally set up for emergency wartime funds, but was often used to pad defense spending and circumvent budget caps.

OCO ended up being about $69 billion last year, with $16 billion of base budget requirements stuffed inside. For 2022, the Pentagon is nesting $42.1 billion in the base budget for war operations.

As for the military services, the Army will see a slight decrease in funding, something defense officials chalked up to the drawdown in Afghanistan. The Army received $174.3 billion in 2021; the White House is requesting $172.7 billion for 2022.

The other branches will see modest increases. The Air Force, with the Space Force now under its wing, is getting the biggest bump from $204 billion in 2021 to $212.8 billion. The Navy will move up from $207.1 billion to $211.7 billion in 2022.

The defense-wide budget, which encompasses agencies that do not fall under the aegis of the services, will slump from $118.4 billion in 2021 to $117.4 billion in 2022.

Total defense spending — which includes the Energy Department and other agencies — will come out to about $753 billion, about $12 billion more than last year.

Reallocating resources

The Pentagon said a large part of the budget is a shifting of resources within the confines of a mostly flat budget to make room for modernization and strategic competition.

“The Defense budget funds the right mix of capabilities that we need most to defend this nation now and in the future,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on Thursday. “It invests in hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence, microelectronics, 5G technology, cyber capabilities, shipbuilding, climate change resilience and nuclear modernization to name a few. It gives us the flexibility to divest ourselves of systems and platforms that do not adequately meet our needs; including older ships and aircraft and intelligence platforms that demand more maintenance and upkeep and risk than we can afford.”

The department is targeting $2.8 billion in legacy systems to reroute into those technologies and new systems it thinks will keep the United States ahead of China.

The divestments will hit all of the military services and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). The Navy will plan to decommission some littoral combat ships, cruisers and dock landing ships. It will also cast off some F-18s and RQ-21 drones for a total savings of $1.3 billion.

The Air Force is once again trying to lose at least some of its popular A-10 planes, along with some F-15s, F-16s, KC-135s, KC-10s, C-130Hs, E-8s and RQ-4s. The total savings would end up being $1.4 billion. The A-10 Warthog is a service member and lawmaker favorite, known for its loud and intimidating frontal guns.

Congress previously blocked Air Force attempts to retire the platform. This time, DoD said it will not be getting rid of all of the planes.

“As we take this to Congress, we have a lot of work to do to ensure that they understand exactly what we’re trying to do here,” Vice Adm. Ronald Boxall, director of force structure, resources and assessment for the Joint Staff, said Friday at the Pentagon. “A-10s for example, we are going to divest in 42 A-10s. But, we keep around 239 A-10s as well. We’ll need those in the future to keep capacity, but we also need capability.”

Smaller divestitures will take place in the Army and SOCOM as they do away with legacy night vision products and IT systems.

The budgets that are now being prioritized are getting elevated funding from those cuts. The research, development, test and evaluation budget will see a 5.1% bump from 2021. Within that account, DoD will put $2.3 billion in microelectronics, nearly $900 million in artificial intelligence and almost $400 million in 5G.

The Pentagon is already growing its programs in each of those categories with centers of excellence, technologies in the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and 5G trials at bases.

The science and technology fund, which works on newer, groundbreaking technologies gets a 4.1% increase at $14.7 billion. Basic research stays the same at $2.3 billion.

DoD plans to put $20.6 billion in space capabilities. The Pentagon has been increasingly concerned about its dominance in space. About $1.7 billion of that will go to funding five launch vehicles, and $1.8 billion will go to buying two GPS III follow-on satellites.

In another key area, cyberspace, DoD is planning for $10.4 billion. The money will go toward increasing capabilities in access management and zero trust frameworks.

DoD also wants to grow its Cyber Mission Forces from 133 to 127 and build more cyber ranges to increase the ability to train.

Personnel, readiness and end strength

The Pentagon is budgeting for a 2.7% increase in pay for both civilian and military personnel. The raise is slightly less than previous years.

Military end strength will decrease by about 5,000 in the active and reserve components for a total of about 2.1 million troops.

Reductions will hit the Marine Corps the hardest with a decrease in about 2,700. The Air Force will see the least attrition, with just 751 less airmen.

“The Navy’s reduction is driven by the decommissioning of several ships,” Boxall said. “The Marine Corps is continuing their progression toward their force design 2030, a set of larger reform initiatives aimed at internally generating resources through divestitures.”

The Air Force’s reductions will come from the loss of legacy aircraft and the movement of some airmen into the Space Force.

The Space Force will continue its expected growth to 8,400 in 2022.

DoD’s civilian workforce will grow by about 1.1% to about 786,000 employees.

The Pentagon is also trying to retain the readiness it rebuilt after years of continuing resolutions caused unpredictable spending patterns. About $122 billion will go toward sustaining those gains through training, maintenance and building of infrastructure.

The department is adding a billion dollars to its account for facility sustainment, repair and modernization, an area in dire need as many installations are dealing with buildings in poor or failing condition.

The budget request also increases military construction by 17% compared to 2021 for operational facilities and global defense posture initiatives.

About $8.6 billion is set aside for family support initiatives. DoD will establish a sexual assault response, prevention and education center of excellence and invest in more childcare.

Congressional response

The White House’s defense budget is taking hits from both the left and the right, while more mainstream Democrats are calling the plan a win.

“The defense budget must always be viewed in the broader context of the national security and fiscal challenges we face,” Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said in a statement. “We’ve got to ensure we have the right strategies and resources to keep the American people safe now and in the future, with a keen eye toward evolving and emerging threats around the globe. The president’s Defense budget request is an outline and a starting point. In the coming weeks, the committee will hold in-depth, bipartisan hearings on the budget request as we begin constructing this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.”

Reed’s Republican counterpart on the committee was much more critical.

“President Biden’s defense budget request is wholly inadequate — it’s nowhere near enough to give our service members the resources, equipment and training they need,” Senate and House Armed Services Ranking Members Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said. “It’s disingenuous to call this request an increase because it doesn’t even keep up with inflation — it’s a cut. Fundamentally, it does not adequately resource the 2018 National Defense Strategy, forcing impossible choices between readiness and modernization upon commanders and troops.”

Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) cheered the budget as a whole.

“With ample defense and nondefense spending, we are better able to secure our nation, revitalize our economy, defeat the pandemic and restore U.S. global leadership,” he said. “Spending on national security and domestic programs are not competing priorities, but should be seen as part of a comprehensive vision for how our country moves forward.”

More left leaning Democrats were concerned about the size of the defense budget.

“At a time when his own Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, recently criticized a federal budget that is basically ‘military and pensions’ without building our productivity capability here at home, it’s disappointing that President Biden would propose a budget of $715 billion,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.). “I am concerned that this budget will likely include other wasteful spending such as funding the new Ground Based Strategic Deterrent ICBM missiles that will cost almost $100B (over 10 years). We need a fundamental shift in how we address national security issues and invest in climate action and pandemic response. Those are the issues impacting the security of the American people and will keep Americans safer than spending billions on more deadly weapons.”


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