The Trump administration had a rare opportunity in the 2019 planning and budgeting cycle. For most of its time in office, the Obama administration requested more for defense than Congress appropriated, and as a result was forced into a series of unstrategic austerity measures, the effects of which are not yet fully appreciated. Conversely, the Trump administration arrived in power when Congress was in a spending mood, creating space to both set a new strategic direction and actually implement the strategy with new resources. The budget request for fiscal year 2019 was the first one prepared entirely by the new administration, guided by its National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy , along with a large influx of cash for the Department of Defense – about $40 billion above the administration’s fiscal year 2018 request. The strategy boldly emphasized strategic competition with China and Russia, so one would expect a budget that emphasizes the advanced capabilities required to retain the U.S. technological edge against those competitors – things like electronic warfare capability, advanced munitions, and artificial intelligence. Instead, the administration submitted a budget request that, with a few notable exceptions, invests heavily in legacy systems, many of which have already been in service for decades, such as the Abrams tank, the Super Hornet fighter jet, and the Apache helicopter.
Thus, the Trump administration has missed its best chance to reshape the force in accordance with the strategy, and it will not get another opportunity like the one it had in the 2019 planning cycle. Building both a new strategy and a first budget request concurrently in the first year of an administration is always challenging. However, given the additional funds the department received this year, the 2019 cycle was the best opportunity to apply those new funds to the administration’s new priorities. And there is no more new money coming
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