President Donald Trump has put forward a $668 billion defense budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
The proposal released Tuesday would increase the Defense Department’s base budget to $574.5 billion — $52 billion over congressional spending caps. It would buy six ships, several new fighter jets and munitions, while growing the U.S. fighting force by more than 56,000 service members.
Pentagon Chief Financial Officer John Roth told reporters on Tuesday the increases would help with military readiness. “The world has become a more dangerous place,” he said.
John “JV” Venable, senior research fellow for defense policy at the Heritage Foundation, said the budget would need to continue to increase by about $20 billion to $30 billion each year for the next two years — and sustain that budget increase for several years — to ensure the force is properly funded.
“We’ve put so many demands on our services. We ask so much of them,” Venable told VOA. “We have funded it at 75 to 80 percent of what they need to do that job for so long, right now, the dividends are paid in worn equipment and people who are discouraged.”
The budget also calls for about $65 billion for a contingency fund for overseas operations, including $46 billion for operations in Afghanistan. The remainder of this fund would pay for countering Islamic State operations in Iraq and Syria, bolstering NATO allies and U.S. partners in Europe, and building partner capacity around the globe.
The $668 billion total budget also would include about $28 billion for defense-related spending by the Energy and Justice departments.
The overall budget proposal is calling for cuts to many social programs, including those that help the poor pay for food and medical care.
However, Venable said social cuts should not be compared with the government’s defense increases, which he says are needed to maintain borders and allow freedom of movement across the globe.
“The world needs a strong U.S. military to make that happen, like it or not,” he said.
The U.S. Constitution says the government should establish justice, insure domestic peace, provide for defense, promote general welfare and secure freedom.
Air Force desperate for relief
The budget increase comes as U.S. Air Force readiness is at an all-time low, Venable said.
“Since its inception in the late ’40s, the Air Force, I don’t think, has ever been at this level of readiness,” said Venable, a 25-year veteran of the Air Force.
Air Force General Carlton Everhart, commander of U.S. Air Mobility Command, agreed that force growth is needed in his service branch, which currently is in need of about 1,500 pilots and has an additional 1,600 pilots who are eligible to leave the Air Force within the next four years.
“If you look at things we’re doing every day, it’s a big deal,” Everhart said in a recent interview with VOA.
Even though the United States has the most expensive Air Force in the world, the shortage of pilots, specifically the shortage of fighter jet pilots, has threatened to affect U.S. operations within the next calendar year if left unchecked, Air Force Major General Scott Vander Hamm told VOA in an exclusive interview last November.
The U.S. air campaign has been critical in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, dubbed Operation Inherent Resolve, where the American-led coalition is training local fighters to defeat terrorists on the ground while supporting ground troops’ efforts with multiple airstrikes each day.
In addition to funding more pilots and fighter jets, the budget would also provide money to buy 15 new KC-46 air tankers, which are used for aerial refueling.
“If you look at Inherent Resolve right now, 90 percent of all refuelings that have happened in that operation has been on the backs of our tankers,” Everhart told VOA.
Budget constraints in the past decade have placed the Air Force in a position where its current tanker, the KC-135, could be 100 years old before it is retired, even with the fiscal 2018 budget increases, he added.