Trump's 2019 Budget Includes 2.6% Raise, Modest Force Size Boost

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army/C. Todd Lopez)
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army/C. Todd Lopez)

The Defense Department's budget request for 2019 released Monday called for a 2.6 percent military pay raise, a modest increase in the end strengths of the services, and major rebuilding programs aimed at retaining the U.S. edge over China and Russia.

Pentagon Comptroller David Norquist said the 2.6 percent pay increase proposal for fiscal 2019 would boost the pay of a staff sergeant by $1,169 next year.

The 2.6 percent increase would come on top of the 2.4 percent increase for 2018 authorized in December by President Donald Trump by executive order.

In addition, the DoD "expects moderate and manageable increases in pay will continue in the near term and will match the growth in private-sector wages," the budget documents said.

There was some initial confusion on the proposed increases in the end strengths of the services because of the congressional delays in the approval of funding, but it appeared that the Pentagon was recommending an overall boost in the size of the force of more than 17,000 -- almost all of it for active-duty personnel.

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The Air Force would increase by 4,000 active-duty personnel to boost the overall force to 329,100 airmen; the Army would gain 4,000 active-duty personnel to increase the force level to 487,500; the Navy would gain 7,500 active duty to increase to 335,400 overall; the Marine Corps would gain 1,100 personnel to grow to 186,100.

Reserve and National Guard forces would see only modest increases. Army, Navy and Air Force Reserves would add 800 forces total; and the Army and Air National Guard would add 500 troops apiece.

If approved by Congress and the White House, the Pentagon's $716 billion budget request for 2019 would provide funding to build 10 Navy ships, including three guided missile destroyers, two Virginia class submarines and one Littoral Combat Ship.

It also would fund more than 400 new aircraft, including 77 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, 24 F/A-18E Super Hornet fighters, 60 AH-64 Apache helicopters and 68 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

The $716 billion in proposed defense spending for FY2019 would amount to about a 10 percent increase over military spending in 2017.

Congress last week finally moved past a series of continuing resolutions and reached agreement on a two-year budget deal that called for nearly $700 billion in defense funding for FY2018 and $716 billion for FY2019.

Technically, the action taken by Congress last week produced another continuing resolution until March 23 to allow the 12 appropriations committees in Congress time to allocate the money going to government operations, but congressional leaders and the White House said the agreement reached last week was a done deal.

The total of $1.4 trillion in military funding over two years will be directed more to building the lethality and capabilities of the force rather than the end strengths of the services, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Sunday night while traveling to Europe for a week-long series of security meetings.

"I am very confident that what the Congress has now done, and the president is going to allocate to us in the budget, is what we need to bring us back to a position of primacy" among the world's militaries, Mattis said.

"We will be standing up some new elements, cyber is one example, and we will be recruiting more mechanics in the Air Force and recruiting more soldiers and sailors," Mattis said.

In addition, "we'll be buying more stuff" to bolster depleted inventories, particularly on munitions, Mattis said ahead of the release Monday of the Defense Department's overview of the fiscal 2019 budget request, and the individual requests of the services.

However, the end result of the massive infusion of money will be a military that's "not a lot bigger, organizationally. It's built more to address the changing forms of warfare and to bring the current capabilities up," Mattis said ahead of the release of the budget request.

At a Pentagon briefing, Norquest said the budget was shaped by Mattis' National Defense Strategy which concluded that "Great power competition, not terrorism, has emerged as the central challenge to U.S. security and prosperity."

"The U.S. seeks cooperation with our competitors from a position of strength," Norquist said but "the U.S. must be prepared to compete, deter war, and if necessary, fight and win."

The $716 billion represented about a $74 billion increase over current defense spending, Pentagon officials said.

About $30 billion for the Department of Energy and other agencies that contribute to national defense was included in the $716 billion, reducing the DoD's share to about $686 billion. About $617 billion of the $686 billion was slotted for the Pentagon's base budget and about $69 billion for the so-called "war budget," or Overseas Contingency Operations fund mostly for the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

The OCO funding would allot 46.3 billion for Afghanistan operations, $15.3 billion for Iraq and Syria, $6.5 billion for the European Defense Initiative to bolster NATO, and about $900 million for security cooperation agreements with a range of countries, Norquist said.

In arriving at the budget request, the DoD also bowed to political realities and eliminated any request to close excess bases and facilities, which the Pentagon had long sought to cut costs through establishment of another Base Re-Alignment and Closure Commission. "There is not a request for another BRAC round in this budget," Norquist said.

The defense budget request was part of the overall $4.4 trillion fiscal 2019 proposed budget for all government spending put forward Monday by Trump and the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The Trump budget would boost spending for infrastructure and border security along with the military while proposing politically difficult cuts to entitlement programs.

His proposed budget "provides resources to enhance missile defense and to build the planes, tanks, warships, and cyber tools that the brave men and women who defend us need to deter aggression and, when necessary, to fight and win," Trump said at the White House.

"Most importantly, the budget provides funds to increase the size of our armed forces and to give our men and women in uniform a well-earned pay raise," he said.

Trump said that when he told Mattis the amount of the military's share of the budget, Mattis replied: "Wow -- I can't believe we got everything we wanted."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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