WASHINGTON — Diverting from normal practice, the US Army has outlined in wish lists sent to Congress what it would need in the next two years in order to catch up on lagging modernization efforts and accommodate troop increases mandated in the recently passed defense policy bill.
Congress passed its National Defense Authorization Act in December that requires the Army to increase its end-strength by 16,000 more soldiers than originally planned. And President Donald Trump has pledged a troop plus-up to 540,000.
What hasn’t been determined is how much funding the Army will get in the fiscal year 2017 budget and beyond to cope with a large troop increase at a time it was drastically shrinking the force under the previous administration.
The first wish list is designed to meet the needs of a 476,000-strong active force in 2017 and the second list addresses 2018 plans for an active Army of 490,000. If Congress included all of the Army’s “unfunded requirements” in its budget, the service has calculated it would need an additional $8.2 billion not included in 2017 and an additional $18.3 billion on top of its yet-to-be-released 2018 budget request.
Typically, these unfunded requirements lists are sent to Congress to help guide it in considering what additional funding it might give to the services as it hashes out appropriations. The lists usually come shortly after the release of a budget request in the late winter or early spring.
So the pair of lists the Army sent over to Congress in December — and obtained by Defense News — are out of the ordinary and an indication the service is trying to make it clear early on what it would need if Trump follows through on his stated goal to grow the force and spend more on defense.
The 2017 wish list appears to amend the Army’s previous list submitted to Congress last March. Congress has yet to pass a 2017 appropriations bill, choosing instead to pass a continuing resolution keeping the Defense Department operating under 2016 funding levels until the end of April.
And, in a unique move, the fiscal 2018 wish list comes ahead of the Defense Department’s budget request, offering an early glimpse into what will not make it into the 2018 budget taking shape in the Pentagon now.
The Army’s 2017 Wish List Redux
The Army’s previous wish list for fiscal 2017 amounted to over $7.5 billion and included nearly $800 million for modernization efforts particularly in aviation. The list indicated the Army was taking recommendations made in a February 2016 report from the congressionally mandated National Commission on the Future of the Army (NCFA) to heart, particularly to deal with a dispute between the active Army and the Army National Guard over Apache helicopters.
The new list is less focused on fulfilling NCFA recommendations to emphasizing what the Army would need to equip a larger force.
It also addresses other capability gaps that have come to the forefront as the service increases its concentration on the European theater to deter an aggressive Russia’s possible unwelcome military advancement into Eastern Europe.
The Army would spend $1.8 billion beyond the 2017 budget to upgrade its armor formations, a direct answer to capability demands in Europe.
According to the list, the service would accelerate Abrams tank production by two Battalion sets — recapitalizing older tanks into a new version.
Bradley Fighting Vehicle production would be sped up to build one cavalry squadron set. The Army would also ramp-up the pace to modernization of 140 Stryker armored fighting vehicles to the Double V-Hull (DVH) variant as well as the production of 18 M88A2 Hercules armored recovery vehicles, which would accelerate the pure-fleet of M88A2 for all Armored Brigade Combat Teams and ABCT support units.
Among other armor formation upgrades, the Army would procure battalion mortar capability for three ABCTs and would fund research and development to increase fire power of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle with a 30mm gun.
US Army Europe has also lamented a capability gap in short-range air defense (SHORAD) and the wish list asks for $1.3 billion to pay for modifications to the Patriot Air and Missile Defense System, procures Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles, accelerates Stinger air defense system modifications and a service life extension program and also would fund modifications of the Army’s Avenger short-range air defense systems.
Electronic warfare is also a growing concern and the Army would speed up the procurement of ground and air electronic warfare capabilities, an area where Russia is considered to be more advanced.
The Army is also asking for $2.5 billion for 10 new-build AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and advanced procurement for an additional 10 aircraft, 14 new-build CH-47F Chinook cargo helicopters, 17 LUH-72A Lakota light utility helicopters, and 12 additional Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft.
Not in the 2018 Budget?
In order to bring the Army’s end-strength up to 490,000 troops, which is 36,000 above what was originally programmed in 2018, the service needs $7 billion — apparently not included in the 2018 budget request — to build the force.
The funding would allow for the Army to add three Armor Brigades, one through conversion and two new. The service would also add an Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT), one Corps Headquarters and one Division Headquarters.
The service would create a “readiness enhancement account” that would provide funding for the increased number of soldiers in institutional training and generating the force, according to the list.
The list also asks to grow the Army National Guard to 343,000 — 8,000 above the 2018 program — and the Army Reserve to 199,000 — 4,000 above the 2018 plan.
The service would also spend $2.5 billion to accelerate aviation procurement programs, which have taken hits in recent years due to sequestration and tight budgets. The Army would buy 33 new-build Apaches and modernize 48 within five years. The modernization of UH-60 helicopters and Gray Eagles would be accelerated.
The Army would invest another $2.5 billion in armor formation upgrades in 2018 to include modernization efforts for Abrams, Bradley, the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) as well as active protective systems.
The 2018 wish list also addresses shortfalls in the quantity of missiles and artillery available. The Army would spend $1.5 billion to procure enough fires capacity in five years for US Central Command, US European Command and Korea and would extend the life of the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) while accelerating its long-range missile replacement. Funds would also extend the Guided Multiple-Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) range and upgrade its seeker among other investments in ammunition and missiles.
Air Defense would get another $1 billion boost in terms of upgrades to SHORAD and Patriot missiles and radars. The money would also go toward Stinger man-portable air defense system upgrades and procurement.
The Army would also spend $800 million to procure one additional Stryker BCT lethality package per year and accelerate the Mobile Protected Fire Power (MPF) vehicle program.
Efforts to develop assured Position Navigation and Timing (PNT) in a GPS-denied environment, modernize the existing Warfighter Information Network – Tactical system and bring on a rapid solution for advanced radio encryption and survivability capability in an electronic warfare battlefield are among the items on the Army’s command and control modernization wish list.
The Army would also increase funding training and sustainment efforts in both 2017 and 2018.
Joe Gould, Washington congressional reporter for Defense News, contributed to this report.