Surprises in the FY 2015 Defense Budget

Much of what was briefed in yesterday’s budget rollout was discussed by Secretary Hagel and Pentagon leaders in advance of the release. There were, however, a few surprises in the details briefed by the DoD Comptroller, Bob Hale. Slide 11 of his briefing, shown below, lists Army and Marine Corps end strength and the number of carriers projected in the force.[1] The footnote at the bottom of the slide is key to understanding what is actually funded in the budget request. This footnote and Mr. Hale’s discussion of it during the briefing indicate that the FY 2015 budget does not in fact fund the higher end-strength and carrier levels listed in the column labeled “Goal w/o Sequester FY 2019.”

The FY 2015 FYDP only funds Army active end strength at 420,000, Marine Corps active end strength at 175,000, and does not fully fund the refueling and overhaul of the USS George Washington aircraft carrier, which would leave the Navy at 10 carriers. The FY 2015 FYDP is already $116 billion higher than the Budget Control Act caps for the years FY 2016-2019, but the money for the higher force levels listed in the “goals” column is not included in this. The Department would need even more money or would have to find offsetting cuts in the budget to reach 440,000 in Army end strength, 182,000 in Marine Corps end strength, and 11 carriers.

As Mr. Hale noted in his remarks, the decisions on Army and Marine Corps end strength and completing the carrier refueling do not have to be made immediately. As a risk reduction measure, the Department has chosen to put itself on a trajectory toward these lower numbers in case Congress does not raise the budget caps for FY 2016 and beyond. But the consequence of these decisions is the budget request does not actually fund the force levels advertised by Pentagon leaders.

[1]           Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) / CFO, “Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Request,” March 2014, access on March 5, 2014 at: