There’s $1.5 billion for more nuclear-tipped Trident II ballistic missiles and $1.1 billion for research and development on a replacement for the Ohio-class Trident submarines that carry them. And there’s $379 million for development of a new penetrating nuclear bomber—all this, despite the president’s stated goal of cutting nuclear weapons.
The budget includes more money for cyber operations—$4.7 billion, up from the current budget’s $3.9 billion. It also allots less money for missile defense ($9.2 billion, down from $9.7 billion) and for the array of drone programs (about $3 billion for the Predators, Reapers, and Global Hawks, down from about $3.3 billion)—but those cuts are due to restructurings, not to a downgrading of the programs.
A case could be made for or against these cuts and non-cuts. The main point is that, despite pledges or warnings of great changes, nothing much is changing.
One of the armed services is taking a serious chop, though—the Army. In active-duty personnel, the Navy is growing a little bit (from 322,700 to 323,600), while the Air Force and Marines are shrinking a little bit (the former going from 329,500 to 327,600, the latter from 197,300 to 190,200). But the Army is taking a substantial hit, from 552,100 soldiers this year to 520,000 next year.
This makes sense, given that the Army bore the brunt of our recent two wars—and now one of those wars is over, while the other is winding down. But the politico-bureaucratic implications might be severe. Until recently, for the past four decades, the budgets for the Army, Air Force, and Navy (which includes the Marine Corps) have been split almost evenly. In no year since the late 1960s did each service’s share of the budget change by more than 1 or 2 percentage points. There was a reason for this. Through the 1950s and early 1960s, the Pentagon was a hotbed of interservice strife. Richard Nixon’s first defense secretary, Melvin Laird, changed this by giving each service the same share of the budget and pretty much letting them do whatever they wanted with their allotment. The strife dissipated; a mutual back-scratching society took hold, and thus it has been ever since.
With the FY14 budget, though, the Navy gets 36 percent, the Air Force gets 33 percent—but the Army gets only 30 percent. Again, this makes sense objectively: more money is being spent on planes and ships than on ground troops, tanks, and helicopters. But politically this isn’t sitting well with the Army, which is already facing an existential crisis about the nature of its mission. Get ready for a rumble inside the Pentagon.
Of course this is about more than just bureaucratic politics. The world is changing, fiscal pressures are tightening, the security requirements are different from what they were a decade or two ago, yet much of the Defense Department is cruising along as if everything were the same. This is the real budget crisis, and no one is confronting it.