Full-Year Defense Budget Avoids Uncertainty

The $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill signed by President Trump on Friday gives a sizable boost to the Department of Defense, including a respectable 2.4 percent pay raise for DoD personnel, and for now at least gets Pentagon leaders off the frustrating, and at times wasteful, treadmill of continuing resolutions. And, while the bill doesn’t get into specifics about critical efforts such as cyber operations and artificial intelligence, it does continue programs DoD has underway.

The spending package, the largest defense-spending increase in 15 years, provides DoD with $654.6 billion for the rest of the 2018 fiscal year, including $589.5 billion in discretionary spending and $65.2 billion in funding for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)/Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). It allots money for big-ticket-weapons systems ($10.2 billion for 90 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, $1.8 billion for 24 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft, and $23.8 billion for 14 Navy ships, among other systems), but it also allocates $89.2 billion for research and development efforts involving weapons systems and work within the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

DoD has underscored the importance of cyber operations in light of the democratization of technology and growing abilities of adversaries to carry out missions in cyberspace, most recently exemplified by Russian attacks on U.S. power grids and other parts of the infrastructure. DoD officials also have emphasized the importance of developing artificial intelligence capabilities, calling it the “new space race.” And, while DoD has increased spending in areas such as big data, cloud computing, and AI, some analysts citing investments by China, Russia, and other countries have questioned whether it’s enough.

The spending bill, which follows the outlines of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act signed in December, will continue DoD investments in offensive and defensive cyber operations, automated data analytics and modeling/simulation tools, and other programs. And by setting funding for the rest of the fiscal year, it takes away the uncertainty of continuing resolutions, which have played a part in DoD spending for the last decade. Military leaders said that continuing resolutions, or CRs, affect long-term planning, program operations, training, acquisition, maintenance, and even their ability to make budget requests.

“There ought to be more than just a little bit of irony in your mind that we are trying to deliver a proposed budget on time to the Hill, when we don’t actually know what we are going to get for ’18,” Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, said recently about budget preparations for fiscal 2019. “This is called gambling,” Navy Secretary Richard Spencer complained at a forum in December that the service had wasted $4 billion since 2011 because of CRs.

Establishing a full-year budget takes away some of that pressure at least until six months from now, when the budget process takes hold again. The administration’s 2019 national security budget request, submitted to Congress last month, asks for $686 billion for DoD, including, for example, a funding boost–from $41 million to $72 million–for the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), which is designed to work with industry on new technologies that can be developed and fielded quickly. However, the question of whether funding for next-generation technologies will be available will have to wait until the fall.

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