The Pentagon on Tuesday unveiled details of the $750 billion national defense budget that the Trump administration has asked Congress to pass, calling it an example of how the military is shifting its emphasis from counterinsurgencies to competition with China and Russia, The Washington Post reported.
The issue is likely to feature prominently in acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan’s testimony before Congress, scheduled for Thursday. He has said previously the 2020 budget would be a “masterpiece” demonstrating how the Pentagon is adapting to the great-power strategy.
But President Trump’s plan to take money from the Pentagon budget for the border wall and attempt to raise the defense budget without agreeing to hikes in nonmilitary spending has angered Democrats, setting the stage for negotiations that are more hostile than usual and overshadowing the strategic realignment.
The budget request showed some trade-offs the Pentagon would be expected to make to recalibrate the military bureaucracy toward China and Russia after more than a decade and a half spent focusing on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Navy plans to retire one of its aircraft carriers early and invest in drone ships; the Army is looking to scale back investments in legacy helicopters and fighting vehicles and instead buy high-end versions; and the Air Force is dramatically increasing its investments in space.
Whether the changes go far enough to reshape the military for a new mission is a matter of debate that will play out in public over the coming months as the Pentagon seeks to reach an agreement with Congress over what proposals will proceed and earn funding.
The $750 billion request comprises $718 billion for the Defense Department and $32 billion for defense-related activities at other agencies, primarily nuclear weapons programs at the Energy Department. The budget represents a nearly 5 percent increase over the current fiscal year but, when adjusted for inflation, falls below overall defense-spending highs during the peak of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Top Pentagon officials initially suggested that the defense budget might be cut as a result of the Trump administration’s efforts to control spending in response to a rising deficit, but the rollout made it clear that the White House wants to raise the defense budget but cut nonmilitary discretionary spending.
The administration asked for a 139 percent increase in the Pentagon war-fighting account, which funds active conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, because that account does not fall under congressionally mandated budget caps that extend for two more years.
Pentagon officials said Monday that only $67 billion of the $165 billion they requested in that account is actually for funding those conflicts, an acknowledgment that the size of the request — the biggest since 2008 — is simply a way to increase the defense budget while complying with the caps. The officials also recognized that the White House dictated the strategy of inflating the war-fighting budget, known as Overseas Contingency Operations, to achieve the desired defense spending levels overall.