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Coming Soon: A $1 Trillion U.S. Defense Budget?

F-35 One of a Kind
Image: Lockheed Martin.

Inflation is affecting the U.S. military, too. Indeed, the defense budget that the Senate Armed Services Committee approved on July 18 calls for $45 billion more than what the Biden administration requested. The final tally clocks in at an eye-watering $847 billion. 

Called the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, the annual bill will go to the full Senate for a vote and then be reconciled with the House version of the measure that approved slightly less funding, $839 billion. The Senate Armed Services Committee completed the bill’s markup in June, and it included 223 amendments.

Great Power Budgets

Committee Chairman Jack Reed of Rhode Island lauded the NDAA as being designed to address the potential for a two-front war in Europe and Asia. 

Reed said that China and the war in Ukraine are key drivers of the legislation. “From China’s emergence as our most consequential strategic competitor to Russia’s assault on Ukraine, the challenges before us are momentous,” he said. “With broad, bipartisan support this year’s NDAA increases funding for our national defense, invests in the platforms and infrastructure our military needs, and delivers critical resources for our allies and partners around the globe.”

The Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative is slated to receive $800 million. For East Asia, the Senate version of the NDAA extends and approves $1.1 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative meant to counter China’s designs on the region.

The Pentagon will have $158 billion in procurement to fund various military hardware programs. The Department of Defense had earlier asked for $144.2 billion.

The NDAA authorizes funding for an additional seven F-35A aircraft. It prohibits the retirement of the F-22 Block 20 fighters. It requires retention of the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare airplane. The bill “supports the Army’s focus on priority modernization efforts, to include long-range fires, future vertical lift, next-generation combat vehicles, and air and missile defense,” according to a Senate fact sheet.

The Senate’s version of the NDAA also supports ample procurement for the U.S. Navy. It authorizes procurement of up to 15 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, 10 ship-to-shore connectors, eight Lewis-class oilers, and CH-53K helicopters. It also authorizes two Virginia-class submarines, one Constellation-class frigate, and one San Antonio-class amphibious ship.

Guns and Butter

With this budget blueprint, the total cost for defense rises closer to $1 trillion. Can the United States keep spending more on defense while also maintaining social spending on entitlement programs such as the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid?  

The defense allocations seem high, yet the United States still spent no more than 3.7% of its gross domestic product on its military in 2020. Compare that to its highest level: The 9.4% of GDP it spent on defense in 1967. At that time, the Vietnam War raged, and the Cold War was in full swing.

The United States today faces at least the potential of another two-war scenario with a revanchist Russia and China. Hopefully no shooting war arises against these great powers, but the U.S. National Defense Strategy takes the threat seriously. This strategy is supposed to undergird defense spending, and it has identified threats not only from Russia and China, but also from Iran, North Korea, and extremist terrorism in the Middle East and Africa.

Unlike the defense build-up driven by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, military spending today is guided more by Congress. This often reflects parochial interests, such as economic development and employment concerns linked to acquisition programs. The Pentagon usually struggles to decrease spending on military hardware and to retire weapons without an uproar in Congress. This probably explains the boost to procurement spending in the new NDAA

If inflation continues to rise while Russia fights Ukraine and China flexes its muscles, we could see the advent of $1 trillion defense budgets. This could boost members of Congress who are dovish on defense, such as progressive Democrats, and libertarian Republicans who wish to keep the United States out of foreign entanglements. There is little public outcry against heightened defense spending yet, but that could change if members of Congress who want to spend more on Butter than Guns see an opportunity.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Ghost Tomahawk

    July 19, 2022 at 5:37 pm

    Russia is not a threat. A country with the GDP of nearly insolvent Italy cant be a threat to the US. China is a threat because our govt is too cozy with China. Playing both sides of the coin is only going to work for so long. Eventually the media will not be able to spin lies on mostly democrat insider trading and Chinese collusion. The American people wont buy it anymore when all they see every day is their lifstyle diminsihed while political elites are riding high.

    Stop spending. Stop trading with China. Bury them in poverty and starvation. Crank up oil production which will bury Russia and China. China is banking on “green” because they own all the raw materials needed for “green” products. Going oil puts both Russia and China in the grave without firing a shot.

    • Aint Just Whistlin' Dixie

      July 20, 2022 at 11:08 am

      Russia is a threat. They have the potential to destabilize Europe, and when Europe goes belly up, it draws us in, as in both world wars. The Russians have weaponized energy and are squeezing Germany. If Germany capitulates, that’s the end of the EU, returning Europe to what it was before 1945, a collection of small and medium states fighting with each other over influence and resources. If the Germans had not signed over their energy security to Putin, they wouldn’t be in this mess. But here we are, and in a world as interconnected as ours, we can’t pretend any more that events “over there” don’t impact us. That’s the same naïve attitude prevalent in this country in 1940.

      Add to that their ongoing cyber and influence operations to divide Americans and set us at each other’s throats, their nuclear blackmail, and assassinations of Russian nationals on foreign soil with collateral damage. Russia’s not a threat in the way Al Queda wasn’t a threat on 9/10/01

      As for China, go to any CEO, wholesaler or supply chain manager and tell them to stop ordering from China cold turkey, and they’ll either roll their eyes or laugh in your face.

  2. pagar

    July 19, 2022 at 6:40 pm

    The military budget has already been one trillion plus for some years now, with black ops accounting for the hidden portions of it.

    Make no mistake, US is the Genghis of our time, the gargoyle of our present age and the carpophorus of the 21st century.

    A trillion dollar plus budget is needed when you’re engaged in proxy wars around the globe with your military ‘trainers’ and special forces right at the doorstep of enemy nations.

    And then there’s the accounting blackhole that grips the DoD every year, where the dept’s defense gnomes can’t explain for the mysterious billions that pop up here and there.

    The dollar printing presses run non-stop to provide the fresh cash while the accounting clerks or auditors scramble to adjust the slippery en,tries in their auditing books and congress imposes new ever growing amounts to feed the Genghis maw.

  3. pagar

    July 19, 2022 at 6:54 pm

    WW3 is TRULY inevitable with the trillion-dollar war machine running at max revs in top gear. Mankind is being prepped for Armageddon that’s tip-toeing on the edges of biden’s administration.

    If Dems lose badly or disastrously in the November 2022 midterms, Biden might not wait for 2024.

    Biden could then decide to ignite WW3 straightaway to save Dems and prevent GOP from directing path of US destiny.

    US has recently and belatedly enjoyed some successes in its hypersonic tests, no doubt buoyed or even aided by the defection of a PRC scientist who’d been involved in that nation’s hypersonic program.

    With impending blowout for Dems in the midterms, trillion dollars for DoD, hunter laptop scandal, biden’s advanced age and rapid cognitive decline and hypersonic success, WW3 is the best option or choice for the 80-yr-old dross in the WH.

    WW3 tomorrow, then, for humankind.Thanks for selecting Biden in 2020 via rigged election.

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