FPI Fact Sheet: Defense Budget Trends

August 1, 2016

In the current issue of National Review, FPI Policy Director David Adesnik analyzes long-term trends in the defense budget in order to explain why sequestration-level funding cannot ensure our national security. The purpose of this fact sheet is to identify the sources that informed this analysis, so that readers can verify its accuracy and reach their own conclusions.

Those with additional questions should contact the author directly at dadesnik@foreignpolicyi.org.


Pentagon Data

The official source of historical data about the defense budget is the Green Book, an annual publication from the office of the Pentagon comptroller. The Green Book provides detailed information about defense spending, in terms of both current and constant dollars, going as far back as 1948. The article in National Review makes extensive use of the information in Table 6-1, which reports annual spending on personnel, operations and maintenance, procurement, and R&D. Table 7-5 in the Green Book provides official figures for Department of Defense manpower, including civilian employees.

The Pentagon’s projections of the size of future budgets are contained in the annual Defense Budget Overview, also available from the comptroller’s office. The comptroller’s website also maintains documentation related to previous budgets, including the February 2011 budget proposal that was the last of Robert Gates’ tenure. Archived transcripts of Gates’ public remarks may also be found on the Pentagon’s website, including his July 2009 remarks about excessive spending and his January 2011 remarks about cancelling $300 billion of planned purchases.

Other U.S. Government Data

To compare defense spending to the budget deficit, or to the cost of entitlements and other mandatory programs, one should consult the Historical Budget Data tables compiled by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which include both the current dollar cost of these programs as well as their value as a percentage of GDP. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) also publishes a wide variety of historical budget data. In particular, Historical Table 6.1 (Excel download) reports the value of major programs as a percentage of total government outlays. This table also provides official White House projections for spending over the next five years. In addition, CBO provides a more detailed set of projections that cover the next ten years. Finally, the Department of the Treasury provides daily updates on the size of the national debt.

The text of the Budget Control Act of 2011, along with related information, is available from Congress.gov. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has published reports that explain the sequestration process as well as its effect on the defense budget.

Foreign Military Spending

Official data on the defense spending of other nations is collected by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which compiles them as part of the SIPRI military expenditure database. For Russia, China, and other states that do not publish reliable budget estimates, SIPRI adjusts reported figures based on its own research. The data in SIPRI’s most recent fact sheet about global military expenditure indicate that the U.S. spends as much on defense as the next seven nations combined – of whom five are allies or partners.

Defense Budget Studies

The National Review article cites data and conclusions from the work of both government and independent think tanks, including:

  • Final Report of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission

Other Sources

In his opening remarks at a January 2015 hearing on the effects of sequestration, Admiral Jonathan Greenert described how F/A-18s from a U.S. carrier were the first in position to strike at ISIS. Basic information about aircraft carriers is available from the U.S. Navy Fact File. A 2014 report from the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) describes the composition of a typical carrier air wing.

The comments by Admiral Greenert and the other service chiefs about the impact of sequestration were made at the same January 2015 hearing. The number of deployable ships currently in the U.S. battle fleet is regularly updated on the official Status of the Navy website. Historical figures for the size of the fleet are contained in the CRS report on Navy force structure and shipbuilding plans. A recent report from CSBA analyzes the stresses imposed on the fleet. There have been numerous press reports about the extension of the F/A-18’s service life. The average age of planes in the Air Force inventory was calculated on the basis of information compiled from Air Force Magazine’s annual almanacs

A digital copy of the open letter on defense reform is available from the CNAS website. Details about the Pentagon’s alleged $435 hammer are available from GovernmentExecutive.com, while the Los Angeles Times explains the origin of the belief that certain toilet seats cost $600.

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