Defense Budget Spikes toward $1 Trillion, Aimed at Keeping China in Mind

The Pentagon aims to load up on space defense, modern jets, and advanced missiles in the most significant defense request in several decades to meet the threat from China. The spending would thrust the annual military budget over the $1 trillion threshold in just a few years, said its chief financial officer on Monday.

The Biden administration is asking Congress for $842 billion for the Pentagon in the budget for the fiscal year 2024. It is the most substantial request since the peak of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars in the mid-2000s when hundreds of troops were deployed overseas, and overseas war spending ballooned.

The budget is now expected to soar because of the greater cost of parts and weapons, but also to begin to repair the vulnerabilities that the war in Ukraine exposed in the industrial base of the U.S. defense systems, as well as the strategic threat the United States sees from China’s rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal, its gains in space and its hypersonic capabilities.

Even if only accounting for inflation, “the budget will hit a trillion dollars” sometime in the next five years, according to Michael McCord, Pentagon comptroller, in a press briefing. “Maybe that’s going to be a psychological, big watershed moment for many of us or some of us, but it is inevitable.”

Although the number seems monumentally high, it is only around 3% of the country’s gross domestic product. In comparison, McCord said the country spent about one-third of its GDP on defense during World War II.

Biden’s budget request is part of an overall $6.8 trillion spending proposal that was rolled out by the president last week. Republicans have said they will reject the proposal. However, it is unclear how they’ll act on the proposal by the Pentagon.

While some Republicans want to go further than the military spending request, others have demanded deep reductions in federal spending — which may be challenging to accomplish without making any cuts in the defense budget.

While operations and personnel costs remain the most significant portions of the annual defense budget, Kathleen Hicks, Deputy Defense Secretary, called this year’s request “a procurement budget” with the Pentagon increasing purchases in all modern weapon systems.

One of the most significant priorities is getting the defense industrial base to increase the production of munitions. The rate of Ukraine’s use of 155 Howitzer rounds and other precision munitions had demonstrated that the defense industrial base in the U.S. “is not where it needs to be,” said McCord.

Over the last year, it’s been a lesson learned as America assesses how to best prevent a similar fight over Taiwan, which could put us at odds with China.

Budget aims to ensure possible defense from China

The budget’s goal is to ensure China “wakes up every day, considers the risks of aggression, and concludes, ‘today is not the day,’” said Hicks.

For example, the administration asks Congress for $30 billion to manufacture more missiles. However, they are “not the kind of missiles that are key to the Ukraine fight,” said McCord. “These are key to Indo-Pacific deterrence,” which is a goal also involving anti-ship missiles, long-range standoff missiles, and advanced air-to-air missiles.

The Pentagon also rapidly seeks to modernize its nuclear, air, and space weapons. The massive request includes almost $38 billion to field the new B-21 stealth bomber, manufacture new ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and purchase new nuclear submarines.

The military request would also fund testing and research for a new kind of warplane, called Next Generation Air Dominance, which will have a modern piloted jet fighter similar to the F-35 and command unmanned drones to accompany it on its missions. The Air Force remains tight-lipped about the drones, which they call “collaborative combat aircraft” — except they are planning to obtain 1,000 of them.

McCord said the request includes the “largest space budget ever,” as space is seen to be critical in any future confrontation and has been proven vital in the war in Ukraine. The Pentagon is looking for $33 billion to make satellite communications more resilient to attack or jamming and rapidly produce a wide range of new missile warning systems to help detect, defend against, and track a new generation of Russian and Chinese hypersonic missiles.

Even the incident with the Chinese spy balloon had an impact, although the budget request was almost complete before the balloon was detected, floated its way across the country, and was downed off the South Carolina coast. The Pentagon is looking for around $90 million to add capabilities to detect similar objects in the future.