March 30, 2022

Sharper: Defense Budget and Strategy

Analysis from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges for U.S. foreign policy.

On Monday, the Biden administration released the annual presidential budget request and a two-page fact sheet on the forthcoming 2022 National Defense Strategy (NDS). While the full budget materials are yet to be released, including justification books and a full NDS, these initial documents provide significant fodder for assessing the direction and priorities of the Department of Defense for the coming year. Continue reading this edition of Sharper to explore their ideas and recommendations.


Risky Business: Future Strategy and Force Options for the Defense Department

Last year, in anticipation of the next NDS, Dr. Stacie L. Pettyjohn, Becca Wasser, and Jennie Matuschak examined three possible strategy and force structure options for the Biden administration under a flat budget. Using tabletop exercises and budgetary analysis, they assessed whether these options could sufficiently meet the challenges of daily competition and future great-power conflict and ensure America’s long-term military technological edge. In this report, they wrote, “the FY23 budget will need to accept more risk and further prioritize to prepare the force for the most challenging and consequential threats. If the Biden administration does not make these hard choices or Congress refuses to support this strategy, the chasm between U.S. strategic and military objectives and the costs of achieving them will only grow significantly. Trying to do too much is a risky business that could result in the United States losing its military technological edge and, ultimately, a war against a great power.”

Mission Brief: The Next National Defense Strategy with Dr. Mara Karlin

In December 2021, Becca Wasser spoke with Dr. Mara Karlin on the evolving security environment and its implications for the forthcoming National Defense Strategy. "The idea of integrated deterrence means that you are integrating across your domains, so as I'm looking at a challenge, how does cyber play into it? How does space play into it? How do you integrate across the whole of government? When we see a challenge, how do we make sure that we are using the military when it fits for a purpose? We're thinking about diplomacy, and indeed leading with diplomacy. It also means integrating across allies and partners,” said Karlin.


Risky Business: Future Strategy and Force Options for the Defense Department

To consider the next defense strategy and the tradeoffs associated with different options, we developed three possible strategies—high-end deterrence, day-to-day competition, ...


Mission Brief | The Next National Defense Strategy with Dr. Mara Karlin

Dec 9, 2021

Navigating the Billions: A Beginner’s Guide to the Defense Budget

"If you have never interacted with the defense budget it can be daunting," writes Molly Parrish in a budget guide. "The process is made up of dozens of acronyms and the data is spread over thousands of pages on various websites. However, with a bit of basic knowledge, the novice budget analyst can navigate the billions of dollars within the defense budget request."

Making Sense of Cents: Parsing the U.S. Department of Defense’s FY 2022 Budget Request

The FY 2022 budget request identified a number of planned activities and areas of emphasis, but did not specify how much money would be allocated toward each area. In a CNAS report, Dr. Stacie L. Pettyjohn and Becca Wasser identified six key areas of interest—the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, long-range fires, naval shipbuilding, research and development for technological innovation and readiness, nuclear modernization, and transnational threats—where the United States will need to make the greatest investments or tradeoffs.


Navigating the Billions

Introduction If you have never interacted with the defense budget it can be daunting. The process is made up of dozens of acronyms and the data is spread over thousands of pag...


Making Sense of Cents

A newly elected government has a clear opportunity to revise the national strategy, including its defense priorities, and to realign resources to support its new approach. Ann...

Special Event

On Friday, April 4, CNAS will host a bipartisan expert panel for a discussion of the FY 2023 presidential defense budget request. Moving beyond hot takes, the panelists will offer their assessment of the long-awaited defense budget, consider whether it lives up to expectations, and discuss how it will be received by Congress. For this discussion, CNAS experts Stacie L. Pettyjohn and Becca Wasser will be joined by Frederico Bartels, Senior Policy Analyst for Defense Budgeting at the Heritage Foundation, Mackenzie Eaglen, Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and Todd Harrison, Director of the Defense Budget Analysis and Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.


Spiking the Problem: Developing a Resilient Posture in the Indo-Pacific With Passive Defenses

"Going forward, senior officials should champion investments in posture in the Indo-Pacific that protect American bases and forces and enable them to operate in a more distributed fashion," argues Stacie Pettyjohn in War on the Rocks. Senior leadership is required because both the services and Congress loathe spending money on military construction overseas. Although the services recognize the importance of a resilient posture, they continually prioritize combat forces over supporting infrastructure and equipment. And even if they do try to make these investments, members of Congress often do not like appropriating military construction funds abroad where there are no constituents."

Pentagon Needs a Six-Pillar Foundation

"The defense budgeting system is more reflective of Soviet-era bureaucratic structures than the vibrant U.S. capitalist model," write Greg Grant, Matt MacGregor and Pete Modigliani in The Hill. "As illuminated in multiple studies and papers, this antiquated budget system has produced a Joint Force that is rapidly losing its military advantage to advanced peer rivals like China and Russia. More specifically, the current Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution system isn’t timely, strategically aligned, responsive, or transparent. Currently, it takes up to three years for DOD to generate the annual defense budget and for Congress to review and appropriate funding. This prevents DOD from focusing investments on new priorities, countering emerging threats, or taking advantage of innovative technologies."

Presentation is Key: Why the Pentagon’s Budget Data Needs a Makeover

"While improvements to budget data materials don’t earn the award for sexiest line in the NDAA, it was a pleasant surprise to see this issue garner some attention," observes
Jennie Matuschak in Defense News. "Although we’ve become accustomed to traversing the treasure trove of budget data, improvements to the materials are long overdue — not only to make the lives of budget analysts easier, but to ensure greater transparency and oversight, thus helping ensure resources align to strategy. Each year, the department releases budget justification documents, which consist of essential budget data, in the form of thousands of PDF pages and several Excel files across multiple websites. The format of these materials has not changed for roughly 20 years."


Spiking the Problem: Developing a Resilient Posture in the Indo-Pacific With Passive Defenses

This article originally appeared in War on the Rocks....


Pentagon needs a six-pillar foundation

Defense budgets are often misaligned with strategy, with readiness and capacity being prioritized over much needed modernization....


Presentation is key: Why the Pentagon’s budget data needs a makeover

As technology advances, Congress and the DoD need to not only focus investments on capabilities, but also on DoD processes and organizational culture....

In the News

Featuring commentary and analysis by Stacie Pettyjohn and Billy Fabian.


White House to Seek $813.3 Billion National Security Budget

President Joe Biden plans to request $813.3 billion in national security spending -- including $773 billion for the Pentagon -- in the federal budget he will send to Congress ...


Why Better Decision-Making, Not Just Money, Is Key to Military Superiority

Let's face it - China may no longer be a near-peer to the United States, militarily. It’s likely caught up and could even be ahead. Analysis by Govini finds that to gain or ke...


Inflation to be 2023 Budget Request Headline, Experts Say

The Biden Administration’s inflation estimates will be the big story related to the fiscal 2023 defense budget submission, experts said in a Center for Strategic and Internati...


The U.S. Has Spent Billions on Equipment and Training in Europe to Deter Russia. Is It Enough?

The U.S. military has nearly 80,000 troops on average on rotational or permanent orders in Europe. Now, it’s sending thousands more to support those units. About 3,000 combat ...

About the Sharper Series

The CNAS Sharper series features curated analysis and commentary from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges in U.S. foreign policy. From the future of America's relationship with China to the state of U.S. sanctions policy and more, each collection draws on the reports, interviews, and other commentaries produced by experts across the Center to explore how America can strengthen its competitive edge.


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