Continuing Resolution Would Slow US Military Modernisation

Foreign Affairs

Washington: The US military may run out of personnel funds before the end of the year, be forced to scale back operations and see ongoing modernisation efforts harmed if Congress fails to pass a defence spending bill by the end of next week, service leaders warned.

The undersecretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force said they’d have billions of dollars in “misaligned” funds — money that exists but not in the right budget lines to support their current spending needs — if they’re stuck with a full-year continuing resolution that keeps fiscal 2023 spending levels through the rest of 2024. They agree that they’d have to prioritise current operations first, then people and then acquisition and modernisation in a CR.

“You see sailors and Marines across the globe today, performing important missions: the Red Sea is an excellent example of how current operations take precedence,” Navy Under Secretary Erik Raven told reporters at the Pentagon.

Without sufficient funds, he said, “we have to make tough choices. But between the ability to fight tonight and be ready for all the threats, versus preparing for the future and modernising our forces — it is a tough decision, but we have to lay our chips somewhere, and that’s on the ability to perform our missions today.”

Raven said the Navy’s ability to make that prioritisation, though, would require Congress to grant the services some “unprecedented flexibilities” in the form of massive reprogrammings, or moving money from one line item into another.

The Navy, for example, would have $26 billion in the wrong places, and would need Congress to approve $13 billion in formal reprogrammings — more than twice the money Congress approves for the entire Defence Department in a typical year, he said.

But the reprogramming frenzy would be vital to mitigate the risk the services would take in their modernization efforts and industry would face if contracts are delayed or nixed altogether. The Army is facing a similar misalignment in funds, to the tune of $6 billion.

“These are production rate increases, new starts — both in programs for acquisition as well as military construction projects that we cannot start,” Army Under Secretary Gabe Camarillo said.

The Air Force’s misalignment in funds equates to over $13 billion and “impacts are particularly challenging in the Space Force, who has seen their budgets rising over the last couple of years,” Air Force Under Secretary Jones said.

Further complicating funding this fiscal year is the fact that Congress has yet to pass a sweeping supplemental request, which the Pentagon hoped would supply weapons to Ukraine and Israel in support of ongoing wars for both countries and would also fund the Southwest border mission. The lack of supplemental funding compounds the impact of a long-term CR, Camarillo said.

The Army is spending $500 million out of its base budget for operations costs in the European theatre, another $100 million in the US Central Command area of operations and another $500 million for the operations along the US Southwest border.