Over the past two years, the Army has received budget increases, which Army leaders say has allowed them to progress in modernizing the force toward near-peer competition and Multi-Domain Operations. 

To sustain the modernization, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford said the Defense Department will need to see 3-5% real growth over inflation to meet it’s capacity and capability requirements. 

But there’s plenty of evidence to question whether that funding will be there. 

House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith has said for years that the defense budget “will almost certainly decline.” 

Some industry insiders have said that the major Raytheon and United Technologies merger “underscores beliefs that U.S. defense spending is at or near its cyclical peak.” 

So what is the back-up plan?

“We will have nothing but hard choices ahead of us,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said on Monday at AUSA. “We’re going to make hard calls on weapon systems that mature enough, fast enough … I see more of that coming in the future.” 

McCarthy said that over half the Army’s balance sheet is tied up in readiness, which really limits what the Army is able to do when it comes to continuing modernization efforts if budget cuts were put in place. 

Last year at AUSA, then-Army Secretary and current Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced that the Army would divert $25 billion in spending on current programs toward the modernization priorities after a series of “Night Courts” where he and the Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley took an in-depth look to justify spending on all platforms. 

McCarthy did not say he would take a similar Night Courts approach or give any more details of what the path forward might look like under a tighter budget. Instead, Army leaders are focused on drumming up political support and getting a deal. 

“We’ve had two good years of budgets. We need two more,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said, “And I would ask those who make those types of decisions to recognize the importance of this and make it happen.”