The FY2015 Department of Defense (DoD) budget will total $496 billion DoD Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters in a press conference at the Pentagon yesterday. This is about $45 billion lower than DoD planned for FY2015 in its FY2014 budget plan and “adheres to Bipartisan Budget Act spending limits for Fiscal Year 2015,” Hagel said.
Hagel outlined the major components and key decisions that he and the senior civilian and military leaders made in developing this budget plan. These decisions produced a budget plan that “balances the need to protect our national security with the need to be realistic about future budget levels,” Hagel stressed.
Under the budget plan, the military force will be smaller, but more capable and will put a “premium on rapidly deployable, self-sustaining platforms that can defeat more technological advanced adversaries,” he said.
The budget plan moves DoD off a war footing for the first time since the U.S responded to the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
The Army will accelerate its troop drawdown plan to lower its active end strength level to 490,000 from a post 9/11 high of 570,000. Under the new budget plan, the Army active troop levels will drop to between 440,000 and 450,000, the lowest Army strength level since 1940.
Army National Guard and Reserve strength levels would also be lowered under the plan. Army National Guard strength would drop to 335,000 from 355,000 by 2017 and Army Reserves strength would be 195,000 compared to 205,000 now.
Hagel warned that if sequestration was required in 2016 (the budget agreement only dealt with 2014 and 2015), Army strength would have to cut to 420,000 and Army Guard and Reserve strength would be reduced by another 20,000 and 10,000 respectively.
Military pay would be increased in the 2015 budget by 1 percent, but general and flag officer pay would be frozen for one year. The president’s budget is also expected to include a 1 percent pay raise for civilians. Future housing allowances would be reduced to provide 95 percent of housing expenses rather than the current 100 percent. The budget plan would also cut $1 billion from the annual commissary subsidy over the next three years
Some TRICARE co-pay increases will be proposed, but Hagel said the budget will not include changes for retired pay. Final decisions are awaiting completion of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission report.
The FY2015 budget will continue to pursue reductions that enable DoD to reduce costs and redirect funding to more important priorities. Hagel said DoD will ask Congress to approve another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round in 2017. Congress has denied recent requests for BRAC rounds and remains skeptical about their need and effectiveness.
Hagel said the budget proposes a number of program terminations. The Army would end the Ground Combat Vehicle program and use funding to develop a next generation platform. The Air Force would retire the entire A-10 fleet, saving $3.5 billion over five years. The A-10 would be replaced by F-35’s. The Air Force would also retire the 50 year old U-2 spy plane and replace it with the unmanned Global Hawk.
While the Navy would maintain 11 carrier strike groups under the budget plan, Hagel said a final decision on the George Washington aircraft carrier would be deferred until the FY2016 budget, when the next sequestration decisions are made. If sequestration was re-implemented in 2016, the Navy would have to retire the ship, Hagel said.
Summing up, Hagel said the decisions in the FY2015 budget plan “will help to bring our military into balance over the next decade. They sustain “adequate readiness and modernization most relevant to strategic priorities over the long term,” he stressed.
But, he warned, continued budgetary limitations come with increased risks. The military services “will continue to experience gaps in training and maintenance—putting stress on the force and diminishing our global readiness” he said. U.S forces will have a reduced margin of error as they operate in an uncertain security environment. And, their ability to respond to simultaneous major contingencies will be hindered, he cautioned.
The full details of the FY2015 budget will be released by the president on March 4.