February 28, 2017

CNAS Press Note: President Trump’s Defense Spending Request

Washington, February 28 – As the Trump administration prepares to submit a defense budget request calling for a 10 percent increase in defense spending, Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Defense Strategies and Assessments Program Senior Fellow Paul Scharre and Research Associate Adam Routh have written a new Press Note, “President Trump’s Defense Spending Request.”

The full Press Note is below:

President Trump’s first defense budget request will include a 10 percent increase in spending above the Budget Control Act (BCA), totaling $603 billion in fiscal year 2018. This request is 3 percent  higher than the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2017 request for $583 billion. The Trump administration reportedly will also seek a supplemental request of $30 billion for fiscal year 2017.

The Trump budget request represents only the opening move in a negotiation with Congress. The Republican chairs of both the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, Senator John McCain and Congressman Mac Thornberry, have criticized the Trump administration’s request as too small, arguing that $640 billion is required.

A plus-up in the defense budget is sorely needed to repair the harmful effects of the BCA on military readiness and modernization. For the past several years, Congress has used the overseas contingency operations (OCO) account as a measure to skirt BCA spending limits. While this has given some budgetary relief to the Pentagon, the total amount of funding has remained inadequate to sustain a military that is prepared to fight and win against present and future threats. Budgetary consistency is also needed so that the Defense Department can plan future procurement and technology development.

The way in which the Pentagon spends its money, however, is at least as important as the total budget topline. Priority number one must be restoring readiness by investing in training and maintenance, both of which have taken severe cuts in recent years. President Trump has previously said he plans to increase the size of the U.S. military in the number of ships, aircraft, and ground troops as well. Modernizing the force is even more important than sheer numbers, however. The U.S. military also needs the best equipment. Other nations such as Russia and China have been improving their defense capabilities, and the U.S military will need to invest in emerging technologies including electronic warfare, cyber, robotics, automation, artificial intelligence, long-range strike, and protected communications in order to stay ahead of potential adversaries. A high-low mix of capabilities will allow the military to field forces with adequate capability and capacity for a range of future conflicts.

The Defense Department also has ample room to cut excess overhead and waste through measures such as using base realignment and closure, trimming back “brass creep,” and scaling back or eliminating bloated headquarters. One of the most lasting impacts President Trump could have as commander-in-chief could come from applying his business acumen to streamlining the Defense Department’s bureaucracy, saving taxpayer money, and freeing up scarce resources for military modernization. These measures, many of which are politically challenging, will require presidential leadership working hand in hand with Congress to cut wasteful spending.

Despite the increase in defense spending, the Trump administration’s request has already come under fire from retired military officers for purportedly including cuts in diplomacy and development spending of up to 30 percent. Over 120 retired generals and admirals signed an open letter on Monday arguing that “The State Department, USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Peace Corps and other development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.” As the U.S. military painfully discovered in Iraq and Afghanistan, shortfalls in diplomacy and development ultimately lead to U.S. troops picking up the slack on the ground, putting more U.S. troops in harm’s way in the long run. 

Scharre and Routh available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at 202-457-9409 or nurwitz@cnas.org.


  • Paul Scharre

    Executive Vice President and Director of Studies

    Paul Scharre is the Executive Vice President and Director of Studies at CNAS. He is the award-winning author of Four Battlegrounds: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligence...

  • Adam Routh

    Former Research Associate, Defense Program

    Adam Routh is a former Research Associate with the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security and a PhD student in the Defence Studies Department at King’s Coll...