Adm. Mike Gilday told an audience Tuesday that it may be time for the Defense Department to stop splitting the budget into a "one-third, one-third, one-third" ratio between the Army, Navy and Air Force and give more money to his service if it wants to effectively counter China in the Asia-Pacific region.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told reporters Wednesday that the Army doesn't get one-third of the defense budget now and pointed out that his service shoulders the majority of the U.S. military's requirements around the world.
"The actual math is the Army gets 24%, and we have less than 24% -- it's really 22% percent because 2% of our margin is [spent] to finance operations in the Middle East," McCarthy said at a Defense Writers Group breakfast, adding that the Army handles "60 percent of combatant commanders' requirements worldwide."
The conflicting viewpoints from Gilday and McCarthy come as all of the services prepare to finalize their fiscal 2021 defense budget proposals, a process that forces each branch to fight for relevance as they compete for Pentagon dollars.
This all started when Gilday told an audience Tuesday at the Surface Navy Association's 32nd National Symposium that his service might need a larger piece of the defense budget to build the ships and submarines needed to counter China in the Pacific.
"Here's the deal: We need more money, more topline," he said. "If you believe that we require overmatch in the maritime. If you believe that in order to execute distributed maritime operations and to operate forward in great numbers now -- that we need more iron -- then yes, we need more topline."
Gilday said that getting another one percent of the Defense Department budget would put $7 billion a year into the Navy's shipbuilding accounts.
"Right now, we are building the Columbia-Class submarine; that is my highest priority," he said. "By the time we send down the Ohio Class, we will have 42 years in those hulls. We need to get Columbia out there. That is a priority."
In the 1980s, the Navy's percentage of the DoD budget was 38%; currently, it's 34%, Gilday said.
"So, I think historically I have a case to make -- it's what you value. ... I don't think I am talking into a wind tunnel when I talk about the value of the Navy," he said. "This discussion has to start somewhere. And one-third, one-third, one-third does not reflect the [National Defense Strategy]. ... It just isn't necessarily in line with where we need to go against the pacing threat that we face."
McCarthy, however, said that Army ground forces will play a major role in deterring aggression in the Pacific.
"We've got three ground wars in the last century in that part of the world," he said. "The greatest deterrent is boots on the ground with our allies shoulder to shoulder worldwide, and that is proven very well for us in Europe. And we are going to do more of that in East Asia over the course of this calendar year as well as next with Defender-series exercises."
McCarthy also said that the Army has a robust emergency deployment readiness exercise program designed to have units train to deploy on short notice.
There will be "substantially more U.S. personnel operating in places like Thailand, the Philippines ... Japan," he said.
"The U.S. Army's presence is very substantial in that part of the world and very necessary in order to have deterrence," McCarthy said.
He acknowledged that the budget process is "extremely difficult" and often forces leaders to make hard decisions.
In preparation for its fiscal 2020 budget, Army leaders held "night court," a time-consuming and tedious process in which top generals went through each program to find more than $31 billion to help fund the service's modernization priorities, he said.
"The Army has really figured it out in a flat [budget] environment because our leadership team is committed to making very hard choices -- in the last two budgets alone, cutting billions of dollars across the [Future Years Defense Program] to be able to finance our ambition," McCarthy said.
"It's incredibly important to have growth, but it's a tough fiscal environment, and we have to do what we must," he said. "I don't want to get in fights with other services about topline budgets. Everybody needs budget increases year over year ... but it is not a one-third, one-third, one-third split -- not even close."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.