March 05, 2018

2019 President’s Budget Request for the Army

The Army’s budget request saw more growth than any other service relative to the 2018 President’s budget request, gaining $16 billion or about 10 percent. With these additional funds, the Army is investing in endstrength to improve readiness and modernizing aging equipment. In the modernization portfolio, there is a tension between making marginal improvements to existing systems like the M-1 Abrams tank (which has been in service since 1980) and developing the next generation of systems. Doing both simultaneously is extremely resource intensive. However, the Army has little choice but to try. The failure of the Future Combat System program combined with over a decade of counterinsurgency commitments have prevented the Army from modernizing, a fact that the Army has recognized and is working to rectify. Consequently, the Army must choose where to accept risk; either it must accept a longer wait for next generation systems or accept less modern equipment in the interim.

The interactive graphic below provides a view of the Army budget request at different levels of aggregation and ultimately down to the program level of detail. Click on budget titles to see a breakdown by category; click on each category to see individual programs. Hover over labels or segments in the chart for additional detail. Click the inner rings to return to higher levels in the chart.

Source: See endnote 2.

Readiness and Endstrength

To address readiness concerns, the Army intends to use some of its budget increase to grow the size of the force. In fiscal year 2019, the Army intends to grow by 11,500 soldiers in the active component and an additional 1,000 in the Guard and Reserve. By 2023, the Army will have grown by a total of 19,500 soldiers in the active component and 2,500 in the Guard and Reserve, leaving it with a total force endstrength of 1,040,000 soldiers. Some of this endstrength will go toward creating three new Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs) by the end of fiscal 2019, adding to the two already in the force. As their name implies, these SFABs are designed to support train, advise, and assist missions, like those ongoing in Afghanistan and Iraq. Creating new force structure dedicated to these missions may seem inconsistent with the National Defense Strategy, which prioritizes strategic competition with China and Russia. However, a driving force behind creation of the SFABs is the need to preserve readiness in the Army’s regular Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs). Prior to instantiation of the SFABs, the Army routinely stripped senior non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and junior officers out of their units to support train, advise, and assist mission, in the process seriously damaging the readiness of those soldiers’ home units. The SFABs should allow the Army to meet train, advise, and assist requirements while ensuring that BCT readiness, a critical aspect of the force’s ability to deter, does not suffer from partially deployed formations.

However, it remains to be seen whether the Army can actually grow by 11,500 active component soldiers in one year, particularly in light of DoD’s new deployability policy, where a soldier who is not deployable for a year or more due to reasons like illness, injury, or incarceration, will have to leave the service. (Injuries sustained in combat and pregnancy are exceptions to this new policy.) Meeting this target will be a challenge both in terms of recruitment and retention if the Army is to avoid lowering accession standards on physical and mental health, education, and criminal history, and lowering these standards could damage the health of the force. The challenge will be that much more difficult given continued low unemployment; the young men and women that the Army would like recruit have many options from which to choose.

Continued Army investment in critical munitions will also improve readiness. Maintaining adequate numbers of these munitions on hand is essential to ensure the Army is able to respond timely and sustain operations in the event of a conflict. The Army continues to invest in increased capacity at the industrial facilities that produce propellants used by all the services in different munitions, requesting $394 million in 2019 for this purpose. The Army is also increasing their procurement of several guided munitions, including Javelin missiles, TOW-2 missiles, Joint Air-to-Ground Missiles (JAGM), and High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) rockets, as well as investing in modifications to the Patriot missile defense system.


In October, then-Acting Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy and Chief of Staff of the Army General Mark Milley announced new modernization priorities that would focus the Army on regaining “overmatch and competitive advantage against emerging threats, competitors, and adversaries.” However, the constant challenge for Army modernization is striking a balance between incrementally improving current systems and developing the next generation of systems. For example:

  • The Army’s top modernization priority is a “long-range precision fires (LRPF) capability that restores U.S. Army dominance in range, munitions, and target acquisition.” The 2019 budget requests $186 million to pursue this capability. However, to fill the gap before LRFP becomes a fielded capability, the Army is also extending the life of the current Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), at a cost of $447 million.
  • The Army’s second modernization priority is “a next-generation combat vehicle ... with the most modern firepower, protection, mobility, and power generation capabilities.” The Army requests $120 million in 2019 RDT&E funding for combat vehicle and automotive advanced technology development. At the same time, the Army requests $3.4 billion to upgrade its current M-1 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
  • The third Army modernization priority is “future of vertical lift platforms ... that are survivable on the modern and future battlefield.” To this end, the Army has requested $125 million in RDT&E funding for aviation advanced technology in 2019. At the same time, the Army plans to continue procuring and remanufacturing UH-60 Blackhawk and AH-64 Apache helicopters, to the tune of $2.9 billion in the same year.

Given the Army’s recent history of failed modernization programs, it makes sense that currently fielded systems need to be kept running and improved to bridge the gap until the next generation of systems are developed and delivered to soldiers. But given how much larger the investments in legacy systems are relative to investments in next generation systems, one has to wonder if the Army hasn’t overinvested in improving current systems at the expense of fielding the next generation systems faster. Over the past several months, the Army has introduced several reforms to improve its requirements and acquisition processes, including creation of a Futures Command and establishment of cross functional teams to pursue the Army’s modernization priorities. These reforms are designed to accelerate development of next generation combat systems; hopefully we will see their success reflected in the 2020 budget request.

European Deterrence Initiative 

Consistent with the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy’s emphasis on strategic competition with Russia, the Department again increased funding for the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI) in the 2019 budget request. The Army receives the largest share of EDI funding, $4.6 billion of $6.5 billion. Formerly known as the European Reassurance Initiative, these funds enable the department to “respond to an evolving European security environment." In other words, EDI funding increases U.S. military presence and infrastructure in Europe to counter increased Russian aggression. The shift in nomenclature from reassurance to deterrence is borne out by increased focus on prepositioned equipment and on reception, staging, onward movement, and integration (RSOI) infrastructure, both of which would improve U.S. response time in a potential conflict with Russia. The request provides $2.5 billion to continue to build a division-sized set of prepositioned Army equipment that U.S. soldiers deploying from the United States fall in on, avoiding the delay that would be incurred if they had to transport this heavy equipment across the Atlantic. The request also provides $193 million for RSOI construction in Romania, Bulgaria, and Poland, which will improve U.S. forces’ ability to move quickly to the front.


As discussed above, the Army’s investments in marginally improving legacy systems often far exceed investments in developing the successors to those systems. If the Army does not yet know what it wants these next generation capabilities to look like, investing resources to keep those legacy systems going may be prudent. One hopes that the changes the Army is making to its requirements and acquisition processes will bear fruit quickly, providing clarity on next generation requirements ahead of the fiscal year 2020 budget request. At the same time, while the cost to increase endstrength is relatively modest in fiscal year 2019 (the Army military personnel account increases by only 4.6 percent relative to the 2018 request), it compounds over time. Increasing the size of the force may improve readiness in the near term, but it also has the potential to crowd out investment in next generation combat systems well into the future.

Up next: detailed analysis of the Navy and Marine Corps 2019 budget request. Check or sign up to have fresh analysis delivered directly to your inbox.

  1. U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) Chief Financial Officer, Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Request, (February 2018), 20, U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) Chief Financial Officer, Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Request, (May 2017), 21,
  2. Department of Defense, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) Chief Financial Officer, Department of Defense Budget Fiscal Year 2019 Military Personnel Programs (M-1), Operation and Maintenance Programs (O-1), Revolving and Management Funds (RF-1), Procurement Programs (P-1), Procurement Programs (P-1R) Reserve Components, RDT&E Programs (R-1), Construction Programs (C-1) [Microsoft Excels], (February 2018). Totals in the graphic differ from those reported in the DoD Comptroller’s overview documents. The overview documents report budget authority (BA), while the “-1s” used to produce this graphic report total obligation authority (TOA). The differences include treatment of reprogramming, recisions, unobligated balances, and offsetting receipts. For more information, see the National Defense Budget Estimates, or “Green Book.” Graphic excludes “less reimbursibles,” a negative line item in MILPERS account.
  3. U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) Chief Financial Officer, Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Request, (February 2018), 7,
  4. Department of Defense, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Financial Management and Comptroller), FY 2019 President's Budget Highlights, (February 2018),
  5. Department of Defense, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) Chief Financial Officer, European Deterrence Initiative: Department of Defense Budget Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, (February 2018),


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