Answered: Ten Major Questions about America’s 2024 Defense Budget

Answered: Ten Major Questions about America’s 2024 Defense Budget

The real state of America’s military can be measured via its spending priorities.

In FY2024, the Biden administration is once again including funding for all three legs of the strategic nuclear triad and two new tactical weapons, but not including any funding for the low-yield nuclear weapon, the SLCM-N.

Eighth, would Biden continue his “divest to invest” strategy for our naval forces, and what will be his goal for the ultimate size and composition of the fleet? In his FY2022 request, Biden proposed decommissioning fifteen ships, including seven cruisers and four littoral combat ships, and building only eight—four fewer than were funded in FY2021. Congress not only authorized an additional four ships that year but limited the ability of the Navy to decommission ships. In his FY2023 budget request, Biden proposed $27.9 billion for the purchase of eight new ships and retiring fifteen. But Congress again added $5 billion for six new ships and prohibited the de-commissioning of twelve of the fifteen.

In light of these changes over the last two years, the Biden administration had to decide whether to increase its goal for expanding the Navy from its present level of 296 ships to 321 by 2030. And if it did, will the administration take the money from the other services or increase the total budget topline?

In the $256 billion FY2024 budget proposed by the Navy, the largest of the five services, it has been allowed to once again repeat its divest-to-invest strategy. It proposes spending $32.8 billion to buy nine new ships, one more than it proposed last year, but two less than Congress approved last year. Moreover, it is once again proposing to retire eleven ships, eight of which have not reached the end of their intended service life, including three land-classed dock-loading ships that it proposed to retire last year but were saved by Congress. Because of its rising costs, which have grown by about 25 percent, Biden proposed in FY2024 to decrease the amphibious fleet below thirty-one, despite a Congressional mandate and an agreement with the Marine Corps on that number. This provoked outrage among the Marines and their supporters on the Hill.

Even in the unlikely event that Congress approves the Navy’s FY2024 request as is, it will mean that over the last five years, the Navy’s procurement budget will have grown by 54 percent and its operations and maintenance budget by 22 percent. However, it is much more likely that Congress will prevent the Navy from retiring many of these ships and will add funds to procure new amphibious ships.

Ninth, would Biden continue to try to slow down the production of the tri-service F-35 aircraft until it fixes its myriad problems? For FY2023, Biden requested sixty-one of these aircraft, down from eighty-fix the previous year, but Congress added eight more to bring the total to sixty-nine.

In the FY2024 proposal, Biden requested eighty-three F-35s—forty-eight for the Air Force and another thirty-five for the Navy and Marine Corps. This is not only fourteen more than Congress approved last year, but twenty-one more than Biden requested a year ago. The administration did this in spite of the fact that the F-35 has not yet fixed most of its problems, including whether it can use a revolutionary but costly new engine that Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has tried to kill. Moreover, the Air Force did not request any additional F-35s in its unfunded priorities list.

Tenth, the administration had to decide on the number of active duty personnel, it wishes to recruit and maintain. Because of the difficult recruiting environment, it reduced its active force for all the services except the Navy. This resulted in a decline of the force from 1.34 million to 1.308 million FY2023. Adding in the Reserves, the total force for FY2023 was 2,087,334.

In its FY2024 budget proposal, the Pentagon is asking for a Total Force of 2,074,000. This is 13,354 fewer than was authorized in FY2023, but 12,335 more than are currently serving, which, given the current recruiting environment, will be difficult to achieve.

No matter how much the nation spends on defense, it cannot buy perfect security. How Congress and Biden handle these issues will not only have a significant impact on our security and economy but it will also tell us a great deal about our values. As Biden himself said prior to becoming president, “Don't tell me about what you value. Show me your budget and I will tell you what your values are.”

Lawrence Korb is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a former Assistant Secretary of Defense.

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