Army Tech Spending Collapses As Enemies Close Gap
The U.S. Army has largely ceased investing in new warfighting technology as overseas enemies steadily close the gap in capabilities. The service is increasingly vulnerable to advanced anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons being fielded by potential adversaries, while its efforts to defend against hostile aircraft such as drones are lagging.
During the Obama years, the annual funding available to the service has declined by $100 billion, leaving it with the smallest budget of the Pentagon’s three military departments. At $127 billion, the Army’s base budget request for the fiscal year beginning October 1 — meaning the money not directly tied to fighting in Afghanistan — represents a mere dozen days of federal spending at current rates.
And very little of that money is going to new warfighting technology, even though almost all of the major combat systems the service relies on trace their origins to the Reagan years — or earlier. To be precise, the Army’s entire budget for procuring helicopters, armored vehicles, artillery, communications systems, air defenses, munitions and intelligence gear in fiscal 2016 will only represent about 36 hours worth of outlays from a four-trillion-dollar federal budget. Add in R&D, and the resulting total of $23 billion equals about two weeks worth of sales at Walmart.
Service leaders told Congress in February that “the Army has no major new modernization programs until the next decade.” Now a secret budget briefing uncovered by the respected web-site InsideDefense.com reveals why. The Army is under so much pressure as its forces shrink and its budget is reduced that it can barely maintain soldiers in an acceptable state of readiness. It has slashed funding for technology investment and base upkeep, even as the number of active-duty soldiers looks likely to fall 150,000 by the end of the decade.
The latest casualty in the Army’s tech collapse is a much-needed troop carrier called the Future Fighting Vehicle. That vehicle was supposed to replace the canceled Ground Combat Vehicle, which in turn was all that survived from the canceled Future Combat System. All three projects have been done in by the low level of funding available for new ground combat systems during the Obama years. The budget document indicates that Future Fighting Vehicle development now will not begin until 2028, which means it probably won’t be fielded until 2040 (if ever).
A similar pattern has unfolded in the case of the Armed Aerial Scout, a rotorcraft that was supposed to substitute for the canceled Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, which in turn was successor to the canceled Comanche helicopter. The Armed Aerial Scout was terminated in 2013 before it even got off the ground, despite the fact that Vietnam-era Kiowa scout helicopters have grown decrepit with age. Because Army leaders decided they couldn’t afford a new scout helicopter or to keep the old ones airworthy, the future of the recon mission now depends of modifying Apache attack helicopters from the National Guard.
In other words, the Army is cannibalizing its shrinking aviation fleet in order to maintain a minimal degree of technological proficiency in future conflicts, because it doesn’t have enough money to buy new systems. Service leaders understand this could lead to defeat at the hands of a well-equipped adversary, but they are so preoccupied right now with just trying to answer the call for forces in Eurasia and Africa while covering training needs that they don’t talk much about their lagging modernization efforts.
The service has fenced off a dozen weapons programs that it says it absolutely must protect to have any chance of prevailing against peer adversaries in the future. Half of them are upgrades of legacy combat systems such as the Paladin self-propelled howitzer and Black Hawk helicopter, while others are genuinely new systems like the Family of Networked Tactical Radios. But this handful of last-stand projects cannot by itself keep the Army ahead of rapidly modernizing enemies. Someday soon, the Army is likely to meet its match on a foreign battlefield.
The Obama Administration recognizes that the bad guys are catching up, even if that trend is largely the result of its own spending patterns. The purchasing power of the Pentagon’s procurement budget today is only half what it was at the height of the Reagan defense buildup — even though today’s economy is twice as big in constant (deflated) dollars. But beyond the general downdraft in military technology spending, there is a clear bias in Pentagon plans favoring air and sea power.
For instance, the Obama Administration’s February briefing on its military spending request highlighted a dozen modernization programs being funded across the joint force, such as new fighters, bombers and tankers for the Air Force and various warships for the Navy. But it only mentioned one program related to ground combat, and that effort was quite modest in scale compared with the other programs. Meanwhile planners debate how they will fund urgent needs such as a more powerful gun for the Army’s Stryker vehicles stationed in Central Europe — an initiative that would cost barely one hour’s worth of federal outlays.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s going on here. The Obama Administration would rather fund domestic programs than defense programs, within the defense budget it would rather fund people programs than technology programs, and within the military technology account it would rather fund ships and planes than tanks and artillery. So Army modernization accounts are facing triple jeopardy. That might not be so bad if policymakers could be sure of winning future wars with air power and sea power, but America’s enemies usually prefer to fight where the joint force is weakest. If current spending patterns persist, that weak link in the nation’s defenses will be the U.S. Army.
This article was written by Loren Thompson from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.