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Biden seeks modest bump for record $895B defense budget

The Biden administration’s defense budget for fiscal 2025 is only a 1 percent increase from last year’s, a slowdown in spending that will prevent the Pentagon from quickly refilling weapons stocks gutted by the wars in Ukraine and Israel, according to documents released Monday.

The $895.2 billion proposal, while the highest number ever for defense, is constrained by budget caps agreed to last summer by President Biden and then-House Speaker and former Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), which hold spending increases to 1 percent for the next two years.

While the request will certainly meet opposition from the Republican-controlled House, it offers a starting point for negotiations on the next fiscal year and outlines Biden’s priorities.

The Defense Department’s 2025 budget ask is nearly $850 billion, up from what is expected to be a $841 billion budget for fiscal 2024, which has been repeatedly delayed amid spending chaos in Congress.

The overall U.S. defense and national security budget also includes $25 billion for programs under the Department of Energy, as well as funding lines under the Department of Homeland Security, boosting the defense request top line to $895.2 billion.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks on Monday urged “Congress to come together” and pass the proposal.

“The world is watching what we do in this moment. It’s tracking whether we can unite and overcome the headwinds facing our national security and our democracy,” she told reporters Monday.

“Our adversaries in particular are observing our willingness to step forward for our allies and partners. So we must continue to make progress critical to projecting power and protecting our people.”

The budget includes a 4.5 percent pay raise for service members, close to $10 billion to bolster the U.S. and allied security presence in the Indo-Pacific and more than $147 billion to maintain troop readiness.

It also proposes $500 million in presidential drawdown authority — when the U.S. draws from its own weapons stocks to support an ally — for Taiwan, the first time the authority has ever been directed at a specific country.

Biden said in a statement that the budget request continues investments to “revitalize U.S. alliances and partnerships,” strengthen the military and counter Russia and China.

“We must continue to adapt, advance and innovate at speed and at scale across all domains, prioritizing China as the pacing challenge, and Russia as an acute threat,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chair Navy Adm. Christopher Grady told reporters. “Our strategy driven budget does exactly that.”

But the slimmed-down budget will slow F-35 fighter jet purchases, air defenses for Guam, orders for an aircraft carrier and the Virginia-class submarine buys. Only one such submarine is to be bought in fiscal 2025.

The plan also cuts costs by trying to retire older ships and aircraft deemed too costly to maintain and operate. The Navy hopes to retire 10 ships before the end of their scheduled service life, while the Air Force wants to retire 250 aircraft such as the A-10 Warthog — a once valuable plane for air support in Afghanistan that has since been made obsolete with the end of the war.

The request has already drawn criticism from the GOP. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said the “defense top-line number fails to keep pace with inflation and our adversaries.”

“I have been saying this for some time now — our defense budget should be built with the goal of deterring the threats facing our nation,” Rogers said in a statement. “Instead, we are forced to build a budget to meet an arbitrary number. I worry about the long-term impact this budget process will have on our national defense.”

Hicks said the administration was handicapped by the budget deal cut last year, but made “smart” decisions within those limitations.

She stressed it was more important for “timely appropriations,” as Congress is more than five months late on the 2024 budget.

“The back and forth over top line inevitably will occur over the course of the coming congressional cycle. We obviously look forward to engaging Congress,” she said. “But I just really have to stress — what we believe in this department [is that] whatever can get us to actually a bipartisan agreement that produces appropriations is high priority for us.”

The presidential budget request also includes nearly $4 billion in support for U.S. and allied posture in Europe.

And the Pentagon is asking for $300 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which allows the U.S. to purchase weapons and equipment from the defense industry before sending it to Ukraine.

But it does not include the bulk of much-needed security aid for embattled Ukrainian troops who have been waiting for Congress to act. The Biden administration used the budget request to push for a $92 billion national security supplemental request that includes Ukraine aid.

The U.S. will also need that supplemental to aid forces in the Red Sea, where they are battling attacks from Yemen’s Houthi militants and spending millions of dollars in missile defense against the rebel group to defend commercial shipping.

Michael McCord, undersecretary of Defense comptroller and chief financial officer, said they have communicated to Congress those additional costs, pushing for a supplemental.

“That would be a big help to us,” he told reporters. “If we could get that across the line that would give us a real opportunity to get started on replenishing either stockpiles or operating costs.”

The budget supports artificial intelligence (AI) efforts with $1.8 billion. The Pentagon’s new Replicator initiative to field AI weapon systems does not have a specific line of funding but will be supported by the budget, according to the Pentagon.

Hicks said she expects about $500 million to be spent in fiscal 2025 related to Replicator, the same as the fiscal 2024 request currently under negotiations.

The budget also includes $3.7 billion in funding for the Sentinel program, the new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that will replace the Minuteman III. The ICBM program, currently under a $13 billion initial contract, is facing soaring costs and is under review at the Pentagon.

The two other legs of the nuclear triad will also be funded, including almost $10 billion for the Columbia-class, next-generation nuclear submarine and $5.3 billion to continue development of the B-21 next-generation nuclear bomber plane.

Here is a breakdown of specific capabilities and programs:

  • $17.5 billion for military construction

  • $29.8 billion for munitions production (continues multiyear procurement authorities to boost production)

  • $143.2 billion for research, test and development

  • $167.5 billion for weapons procurement

  • $4 billion of investments in the U.S. submarine industrial base

  • $14.5 billion in cybersecurity funding

  • $33.7 billion for space capabilities

  • $9.8 billion for hypersonic and long-range subsonic missiles

  • $49.2 billion for nuclear modernization

  • $28.4 billion for missile defense

  • $339.6 billion for operations and maintenance

  • $181 billion for military personnel

  • $17.2 billion for science and technology

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