Military Services Don’t Receive Equal Slices of Budget Pie


If you deal with defense spending, you’ve probably had someone tell you that the budgets of the military services are roughly split evenly. Well it’s not true.

Todd Harrison, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, busted that often repeated myth Thursday when presenting his latest report called: “Chaos and Uncertainty: The FY 14 Defense Budget and Beyond.

“The services have never gotten equal shares of the budget,” Harrison said. “Never! It’s the myth! Never happened!”

Turns out, the services “don’t even get stable shares of the budget,” and Harrison has the data to prove it (see the chart above).

After the Korean War draw down, the Air Force was the recipient of the largest piece of the budget pie. At the time there was a major focus on building up strategic forces, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles and bomber aircraft. Between 1955 and 1967, the Air Force budget consumed an average of 42 percent of defense spending.

“At one point the Air Force was getting almost half of the defense budget,” Harrison said. “I’m sure they would like that to happen again today.”

Following the Vietnam War, the Navy held the largest share of the defense budget, averaging 33 percent of the budget between 1972 and 2003.

During the latest decade of ground combat-dominated wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Army has held the greatest percentage of the budget.

There’s also a fourth budget account called “defense wide,” which goes toward joint agencies and other activities and these accounts have been “growing steadily over time,” Harrison said.

“Coming out of this downturn, we should expect that we could see another switch up in which service is on top of the budget,” he said.

“We should expect that we’ll see a big shift in funding among the services,” Harrison said. “That’s happened in all of our previous downturns.”

Marcus Weisgerber
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Marcus Weisgerber

Senior Pentagon Correspondent at Defense News
I write about broad-ranging policy, acquisition and budget issues affecting the US military.
Marcus Weisgerber
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