President’s Defense Budget Grows—But Something’s Gotta Give

On February 2nd, President Obama released his Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16) Defense budget request to the tune of a $534.3 billion base Pentagon budget plus an additional $50.9 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations account (OCO). Shortly after, Laicie Heeley and the Center for Arms Control team released their annual Defense Budget Briefing Book, providing a breakdown of the president’s request, an analysis of Pentagon spending and Department of Energy nuclear weapons spending. It also includes a summary of defense trends under the current defense budget caps put into place by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA).

** For the full Briefing Book, click HERE. Some quick highlights of the breakdown are included below.

• In nominal terms, this year’s base budget request is the largest in Pentagon history, exceeding the BCA caps by $35 billion and last year’s (FY15) request by $38 billion.

• The OCO request of $50.9 billion is not subject to the budget caps. It is nearly $13 billion less than the FY15 request. However, even after the reduction, if it were a federal agency, it would still be considered the 5th largest, as cleverly noted by Taxpayers for Common Sense.

• Overall, discretionary defense spending accounts for 53% of the total budget request. See the pie chart below for a full breakdown.

• The president’s defense budget busts the budget caps. Congress will have to make cuts, adjust the caps, or find an alternative compromise in order to avoid across the board cuts known as sequestration.

• Proposed big weapons systems ($11 billion for 57 F-35s, $1.6 billion for 19 V-22 Ospreys, $3.4 billion for 16 P-8A Poseidon aircraft, and $1.9 billion for three Littoral Combat Ships) are proposed to be offset by the retirement of the A-10 fleet, the launch of another BRAC round, and TRICARE healthcare reforms. However, these proposals for savings have been rejected by Congress before.

• The nuclear arsenal modernization requests were considerable—up more than  9% from FY15’s appropriated budget—including:
o $37 million to kick-start development on a nuclear-tipped cruise missile
o $75 million to start the replacement of the Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles
o $1.2 billion for the continued development of the Long-Range Strike Bomber
o $1.4 billion for development of the new nuclear-capable submarine
o $1.2 billion for developing a new nuclear sub-launched ballistic missile
o $8.85 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) nuclear weapons

• The NNSA’s Defense Nuclear Non-Proliferation account ($1.94 billion) has been restructured this year, giving new titles to some of the old programs, and in some cases dividing old programs amongst several of the new programs. The Defense Nuclear Non-Proliferation request is 18% more than FY15, but a transfer of the Nuclear Counterterrorism program from “NNSA Weapons Activities” to “NNSA Defense Nuclear Non-Proliferation” is responsible for 14% of this increase. To compare apples to apples—under its previous FY15 structure, the Defense Nuclear Non-Proliferation budget request is 4% higher than FY15 enacted funding.