This first white paper in Mark Cancian’s military forces series analyzes the strategy and budget context for building forces in FY 2020, criticisms of the strategy, budget and resulting force plans, and risks for sustaining force levels in the future.
The budget deal’s large defense increase in FY 2019 allows the Department of Defense (DOD) to do a lot more than it was doing before, but not everything. A major trade-off is with force structure. The forces proposed are more than what Secretary of Defense James Mattis had originally signaled but less than what President Donald Trump’s rhetoric had implied.
The Department of Defense (DOD) faces a strategic choice: whether to focus on modernization for high-tech conflicts with China and Russia or expand forces and improve readiness to meet a superpower’s commitments for ongoing conflicts and crisis response. In their FY 2018 budgets, the services all complain that they are too small for the demands being put on them and hedge toward expanding forces and readiness. In the new DOD strategy being developed for 2019 and beyond, the services hope to pursue all three goals—expand forces, improve readiness, and increase modernization—but the fiscal future is highly uncertain, and they will likely have to make difficult trade-offs.