This story has been updated to include a statement from a Pentagon spokesperson.
The Pentagon is performing a “budget relook” of the Trump administration’s Fiscal Year 2022 proposal, with Navy shipbuilding topping the list of items for reassessment, USNI News has learned.
The directive, issued on Feb. 17, calls for the Pentagon’s Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) to look at a range of line items in the defense budget, including Navy shipbuilding and areas where the Defense Department can get rid of legacy aircraft and ship capabilities.
The instructions from Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks also order CAPE to evaluate long-range fires, low-yield nuclear weapons, and aviation programs like the Air Force KC-46 tanker, the F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter and the Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper. CAPE should also assess “extant FY 2022 investments and FY 2023 opportunities” for the Biden administration’s Build Back Better initiative and climate investments for FY 2023 through FY 2027, according to the memo reviewed by USNI News.
“Due to the limited amount of time available before the Department must submit its FY 2022 President’s Budget request, the process to re-evaluate existing decisions will focus on a very small number of issues with direct impact on FY 2022 and of critical importance to the President and the Secretary,” the memo reads. “There will not be a solicitation for new issue papers.”
The CAPE assessments should emphasize three goals: ways to invest in capabilities for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative that was created in the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, how to speed up the employment of both remotely piloted and autonomous systems, and instances for the Pentagon to get rid of legacy aircraft and ships in the “near-term.” A “Deputy’s Management Action Group (DMAG)” will look at the CAPE assessments once they are complete.
The memo also directs the Pentagon comptroller to assess military posture in U.S. Central Command and pandemic planning related to COVID-19.
In a statement to USNI News, a Pentagon spokesperson said “[t]he Department is actively evaluating the FY22 budget and intends to submit one that reflects top priorities identified by the President and the Secretary of Defense.”
Pentagon officials for months have forecast a flattening or declining defense budget and said the services must look for chances to save money where possible.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) in a Wednesday call with reporters said a “tighter budget” will likely lead to tough decisions and that the Defense Department must continuously seek ways to save money.
“I mean, there are legacy systems which all the services ask us to eliminate and there’s certain reluctance because they’re stationed in our home states or they have an impact,” Reed told a virtual Defense Writers Group. “So we’ve got to look, and if there’s a tighter budget we have to look harder, and that’s one of the realities. And it will begin I hope by the president and the secretary of defense sending over a budget that really looks at cost savings that we can achieve, functional improvements.”
Reed said each service will have to look at where it needs to put its resources. The SASC chairman also stressed the importance of capability, not just the topline defense number.
“The topline number might not be the best guide of are we getting value for our money. And that’s what we’re going to try to look for,” Reed said. “What are the systems that provide real advantages going forward? What programs and policies make us stronger as a nation? My guess though, and it’s no surprise, is I think … we won’t be looking at the same percentage increases as we saw in the last few years.”
While the Trump administration in its own FY 2022 blueprint released in December significantly increased the shipbuilding budget, it’s unclear what the Biden administration plans to do with the proposal.
Hicks, during her confirmation hearing earlier this month, said the Trump administration’s plan featured some “operational themes” she is interested in, like autonomy, but argued the blueprint needs more analysis to look at the number of ships.
“There’s a focus on dispersal of forces and there’s a focus on growing the number of small surface combatants relative to today. But there are some things in that unclassified report as I mentioned to you that I saw as flags. There’s an indication that the information in there would require further analysis to validate the numbers,” Hicks told SASC at the time.
In terms of the new shipbuilding plan, Hicks said she would “assess that last document from the Trump administration and make any adjustments necessary.”