Two U.S. Army soldiers assist Indonesian service members during Exercise Super Garuda Shield in Indonesia, September 1, 2023.

Two U.S. Army soldiers assist Indonesian service members during Exercise Super Garuda Shield in Indonesia, September 1, 2023. U.S. Army / Sgt. 1st Class Austin Berner

Full-year CR would hurt joint exercises, industry, and innovation, defense leaders say

The three service undersecretaries laid out the costs to reporters on Wednesday.

Despite a measure reportedly agreed to Wednesday to temporarily fund the Department Defense at previous levels until March 22, Congress has still not passed a budget for fiscal year 2024—which began in October. That makes a full year continuing resolution more likely, which defense officials say would have terrible consequences. 

Navy Undersecretary Erik Raven said the the Navy does have a plan for how to prioritize readiness if Congress and the President can only agree on a full-year CR. But the department would lose $12 billion in buying power, which would cause domino effects throughout its budget. 

“We would need to move about $26 billion around in our budget. In order to do that, we would need reprogramming authority and about $13 billion. That's about twice what the entire department requests for the entire fiscal year. That's just for the Department of the Navy needs,” he told reporters Wednesday. “Even if we got that reprogramming authority, the process of getting reprogramming through Congress is a lengthy and sometimes challenging one. So our ability to make decisions in real time will be extremely challenged.”

The general public wouldn’t necessarily see the effects of a full-year CR right away, but it would harm the military’s ability to respond to crises like the continuing Houthi militia attacks on merchant and Navy vessels in the Red Sea. Responding to those attacks can require very expensive missiles, such as the SM-6. And the lack of a full budget would hurt the industrial base that is vital to their production, as well as jeopardizing the Navy’s ability to bring new submarines online on time. 

“When looking in the future, SM-6 production, we sought to basically double the amount of money we're putting to SM-6, both to produce the interceptors, which are critical for looking at operations in the Red Sea. Those funds would not be available under a CR,” Raven said. “We have a major request in the supplemental that's pending for $3.4 billion investment into the submarine industrial base…to put industry on the right plan to produce one Columbia and two Virginia-class (submarines) a year. If that supplemental doesn't arrive, we'll simply have to delay all those investments.”

The Air Force has already seen big effects on new weapons development as a result of the continuing resolutions Congress has passed in late 2023.

“Just already under the six month CR that we've had, we've had significant impacts,” particularly in the things like munitions for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and funding for the development of attack drones to escort fighters and bombers, called the Collaborative Combat Aircraft, or CCA program, said Kristyn Jones, the acting Air Force undersecretary. What’s more, she said, Air Force efforts to make operations in the Pacific more nimble—and thus harder for China to target—by investing in more runways are also seeing a hit. 

“Our Indo-Pacific security—a big focus for us is our agile combat employment that had about a 1500% increase from [fiscal year 20]23 to 24. So given the caps that we are under with the CR, we've only been able to make minor investments, and then minor changes to let's say, our airfields on Tinian, and not all of the equipment that we were hoping to buy under the operational imperatives planning,” she said. 

The budget impasse is also hurting the Space Force’s ability to put new satellites into orbit for things like tracking highly-maneuverable hypersonic missiles. 

“National security space launches dropped from 10 to three,” Jones said. “So there's just a number of impacts across the board, and in particular devastating to the Space Force.”

Army Undersecretary Gabe Camarillo said the continuing resolutions have hurt the Army’s ability to purchase equipment to intercept adversary drones. 

“We know that we lost soldiers recently due to a unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) strike. What we need are the ability to buy interceptors for counter UAS. I would just note in the [fiscal 20]24 base appropriation what we don't have is funding to buy 225 coyote interceptors,” he said. 

Continuing resolutions are forcing tough tradeoffs between new tools to attract enlistees and funding current operations in places like Europe and the Middle East, Camarillo said. 

“For example, in our military personnel accounts, we're going to have to make decisions [if] we face a year long CR, do we give re-enlistment bonuses for soldiers at the same time that we're trying to meet our entering targets? Or do we continue to fund operations and support in other areas? So I think those are some examples of some of the trades that we're going to begin to have to make.”

Congress failing to pass a new budget would also harm the Army’s ability to exercise with partners and allies, which are a critical part of the U.S. plan to deter China in the Pacific. 

“A key part of our National Defense Strategy is building our relationships with our allies and partners. All of our exercises that we all perform…they build that coalition, they build trust with other militaries around the world. At the same time, they're critical opportunities for us to experiment with new warfighting capabilities, new tactics, techniques, and procedures. It is a critical aspect of how we modernize as well.”

Defense officials have long warned of  the effects of continuing resolutions. In December, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a letter that “A year-long CR would set us behind in meeting our pacing challenge highlighted in our National Defense Strategy—the People’s Republic of China (PRC). … Our ability to execute our strategy is contingent upon our ability to innovate and modernize to meet this challenge, which cannot happen under a CR.”

On Tuesday, Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said, "The absence of an appropriation bill for the fiscal year severely hampers the department's ability to plan effectively. …We are already well into the fiscal year—now in our fifth month—and, unfortunately, find ourselves again under a third continuing resolution. The fact is that this uncertainty undermines our military readiness and jeopardizes critical modernization efforts."