Policy

Army Seeks Money Shift as Long-Range Weapons Get Longer

Branch leans into Pentagon’s new National Defense Strategy with $46 million request

Aerial view of the Pentagon building photographed on Sept. 24, 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Army has asked Congress to allow it to move $46 million in fiscal 2018 money to its efforts to improve its ability to hit targets at long range.

The money would be spent on a deep strike cannon artillery system, part of the Army’s plans to develop weapons that can strike accurately at far distances. Army planners project that future land battles will be fought at greater distances, beyond 70 kilometers of range for projectiles and hundreds of kilometers via surface-to-surface missiles.

The request, part of a larger effort to shift approximately $378 million within the current fiscal year to the Army’s highest priorities, reflects the Army’s desire to embrace the Pentagon’s new National Defense Strategy, Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy told reporters Monday.

“The Army has worked very hard to align itself with the National Defense Strategy,” McCarthy said, and did not want to wait until the next budget cycle to tweak its spending plans. “If you can’t get going now in ’18 and ’19, then 2020 and 2024 won’t matter, we’ll be behind.”

Another part of the rationale behind the reprogramming requests is the possibility that, after large defense spending increases by Congress to $700 billion in 2018 and $716 billion in 2019, the Pentagon’s appropriations could be flat in fiscal 2020. Despite the two-year deal struck by Congress for 2018 and 2019, budget caps remain in place for fiscal 2020 and 2021.

“Without another deal of some form to address sequestration, the budget could contract. The best case [scenario is] we could be flat, the worst case could be a substantially lower topline than we have today,” McCarthy said.

The Pentagon projects the total costs for the deep strike cannon project at $390 million, and anticipates spending $105 million in fiscal 2019 — some of which would need to be reprogrammed — $106 million in 2020, $73 million in 2021, and $62 million in 2022.

“We want to make sure every single dollar is going towards our priorities, and that’s why we’ve started moving those resources so they are aligned with our priorities,” added Gen. James McConville, the Army’s vice chief of staff. “We are going after material solutions that are going to help us in our fight.”

The Army’s emphasis on long-range precision weapons fits into what one financial analyst covering the defense sector views as a multiyear growth cycle for weapons manufacturers.

In a Monday note to investors, Roman Schweizer of Cowen & Co. described three aspects of the Pentagon’s efforts to beef up its weapons stockpiles. The first will be to replenish the stores of precision weapons that have been expended in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

A second component is build up stockpiles of the next generation of weapons, including air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles.

The third category is new weapons in development, which includes a nuclear weapon described as a ground-based strategic deterrent, a long-range standoff weapon, and hypersonic (five times the speed of sound and above) and directed energy (laser) based weapons, Schweitzer wrote. The Army’s long-range precision strike plans fall under this category.

McCarthy said he anticipated Congress will make a decision on some of the reprogramming requests in September.

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