Some U.S. lawmakers and senior Army leaders are anticipating the upcoming 2022 military budget with some trepidation, out of a concern that key focus areas such as modernization and manpower may be asked to absorb cuts.
Of course, U.S. Army leaders, advocates, and many lawmakers would not like to see funding for Army efforts diminished in a substantive way, given the current global threat environment and increased operational focus on multi-domain operations. Moreover, the military is busy trying to double down on new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and improved cross-service networking and communications systems.
“Little is publicly known about the Biden administration’s 2022 defense spending request, except that it will be submitted to Congress far later than usual, and that its $715 billion top line is a slight increase from this year’s $705 billion,” an interesting article published by Defense One states.
The Defense One piece goes on to suggest that U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville “hinted that the spending plan would force him to choose between better weapons and more soldiers.”
While the impact of any kind of substantial force size reduction is easily understood in many respects, any kind of substantial modernization reduction could bring far-reaching consequences. This is because the Army is now on the cutting edge of several defining breakthroughs potentially likely to generate new concepts and applications of Combined Arms Maneuver. This kind of technology-tactics-maneuver formation synergy is precisely what senior Army decision-makers with Army Futures Command and the service’s acquisition community consistently emphasize.
The thrust of the thinking is not only the kind of immediate technical impact new technologies and weapons have but the broader extent to which emerging systems inform, transform and shape concepts of operation to help America win. This dynamic is particularly evident with the Army’s Project Convergence initiative, a series of high-speed experiments leveraging AI, drones, manned-unmanned teaming and emerging weapons systems to exponentially truncate combat targeting, data analysis and sensor-to-shooter time. This means getting targeting data and other information from one military unit to another faster, resulting in an edge on the battlefield. For instance, an ability to shorten the “kill web” by merging sensor nodes with weapons from twenty minutes of communication time to 20 seconds would be an immense gamechanger.
However, something like Project Convergence—and the technologies it relies upon to come to life in an operational setting—depends greatly upon the continued maturation of promising new innovations. These technologies include new applications of AI, recently established air-ground connectivity such as real-time F-35-soldier information sharing, unmanned-unmanned teaming using mini-drones and long-range, precision-guided weapons such as the Army’s now evolving Precision Strike Missile. But to get there, all of these innovations require sufficient budgetary support.
If any of these systems suffer substantial funding setbacks, an ability for Army forces to conduct a new dimension of “warfare at speed” could be measurably compromised or delayed. In fact, breakthrough levels of operational combat functionality could be stalled or even derailed, harming the ability to wage multi-domain attacks faster than an otherwise advanced enemy could react during a war.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a master’s degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.