The Trump administration is scheduled to release its 2021 fiscal budget request on Monday, and it’s expected to propose about $740 billion for defense.
That’s an increase of just $2 billion over current funding levels, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Thursday that the Pentagon needs to accept the fact that its budget won’t be growing very much. Speaking at an event in Washington sponsored by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Esper said “we have to brace ourselves that at best, defense spending will be level” in the coming years.
In the meantime, Esper is pushing ahead with an effort to shift billions in defense funds from legacy weapons systems and offices to modernization programs that focus on new technologies. Pentagon officials have identified $5.7 billion in cuts they want to make in aging, outdated or redundant programs, and Esper will ask Congress to approve the use of that money for what he says are more pressing projects, including nuclear modernization, missile defense, artificial intelligence and hypersonic weapons.
Esper said the effort is driven in part by the need to stay ahead of China and Russia. “The Chinese have used at least the last 18 years while we were in Iraq and Afghanistan to make enormous strides with regard to the professionalization of their force, modernizing their doctrine, building new capabilities, going after us asymmetrically,” Esper said.