Analysis / Forces

U.S. Military Forces in FY 2020: The Struggle to Align Forces with Strategy

Defense Outlook Series

Annually, CSIS senior adviser Mark Cancian publishes a report on U.S. military forces—their composition, new initiatives, long-term trends, and challenges as well as the strategic and budget context that shapes their structure. This report, a compilation of previously published white papers, takes a deep look at each of the military services, special operations forces, DOD civilians, contractors, and non-DOD national security organizations in the FY 2020 budget.

The overall theme of this year’s report is the struggle to align forces and strategy because of budget tradeoffs that even defense buildups must make, unrelenting operational demands that stress forces and prevent force structure reductions, and legacy programs whose smooth operations and strong constituencies inhibit rapid change.

The FY 2020 budget makes several strategic choices:

  • Continues past budgets’ investments in readiness
  • Prioritizes modernization to compete with China and Russia, choosing capability over capacity.
  • Expands force structure very little.
  • Moves toward a high-low mix of capabilities as a result of the dual demands of preparing for great power conflict and meeting day-to-day operations for ongoing conflicts, crisis response, and allied engagement.

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This report was produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s). © 2019 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

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Mark Cancian, "U.S. Military Forces in FY 2020: The Struggle to Align Forces with Strategy," Center for Strategic and International Studies, November 22, 2019, last modified November 22, 2019,