United States service members could expect a 4.6% increase in salary if Congress approves the White House’s 2023 federal budget plan released on Monday.

The pay raise will serve as the largest increase in military personnel’s salary in almost two decades. It is part of the Biden administration’s $813.3 billion national defense budget proposal for the 2023 fiscal year, which includes $733 billion specifically for the Pentagon. This is reportedly a 4% increase in the overall annual defense budget compared to last year.

The massive defense funding proposal comes on the backdrop of Russia’s escalating aggression in Europe and the looming threat of China in the Pacific, which military and political analysts saw to be observing how the world would react to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as Beijing deals with its own dispute with Taiwan.

“I’m calling for one of the largest investments in our national security in history, with the funds needed to ensure that our military remains the best-prepared, best-trained, best-equipped military in the world,” Biden said in a White House statement. “In addition, I’m calling for continued investment to forcefully respond to Putin’s aggression against Ukraine with US support for Ukraine’s economic, humanitarian, and security needs,” he added.

President Biden and Vice President Harris (The White House, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:President_Joe_Biden_and_Vice_President_Kamala_Harris_delivered_remarks_at_the_Capitol_on_the_anniversary_of_a_violent_insurrection.jpg
President Biden and Vice President Harris (The White House, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Military families have enjoyed a consistent increase in salary over the last years, with annual raises of at least 2.5% since 2018. The last time military wages grew by 4% was in 2013. However, rising inflation over the past year led to a hike in civilian salaries, which then carried over to military wages.

Annual pay raise is based on the Employment Cost Index from the federal government. It works by tracking salaries from the private sector and proposes a baseline rate for the year. This rate can be made higher or lower depending on the discussion of lawmakers.

“We are also asking that Congress support our efforts to take care of our most critical asset, our people… our 4.6% pay raise for our military and civilian personnel helps ensure they receive the pay they deserve and need, particularly in light of the challenging current economic realities,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III in a statement from the Pentagon.

If the proposed defense budget gets approved by Congress, junior troops would see a $1,300 annual salary increase, with senior enlisted and junior officers receiving $2,500 more; and O-4 with 12 years of service would possibly obtain an additional $4,500 with the 4.6% salary increase.

The proposed defense budget garnered mixed reactions from American lawmakers. Republicans claimed that the increase in budget was insufficient in the face of Russian and Chinese threats. At the same time, the Democrats also criticized the Biden administration for asking for larger defense funds.

A Smaller but Newer Active Force

According to Biden, his $813.3 billion proposed 2023 defense budget aims to sustain and strengthen military deterrence, particularly against China and operations in the Indo-Pacific. Washington has previously shown concerns regarding China’s growing military spending and the development of its nuclear capabilities, which is why the budget also includes some $1.8 billion for operations in the Indo-Pacific Region and the Indo-Pacific Strategy, and $400 million for the Countering the People’s Republic of China Malign Influence Fund. $6.1 billion was also allocated for the US Indo-Pacific Command for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative which includes military construction defense for Guam.

Then US Army General and now Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Iraq (DVIDS). Source: https://www.dvidshub.net/image/347382/gen-austin-fob-warhorse
Then US Army General and now Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Iraq, 2010 (DVIDS)

The budget also includes provisions for increasing presence in Europe through NATO and support for Ukraine in its resistance against Russia. Specifically, it includes $6.9 billion for the European Deterrence Initiative, NATO-related expenditures, and another $682 million for Ukraine. It also aims to address threats posed by Iran, North Korea, and other violent extremist organizations.

Despite the long list of goals and a 4% increase in the defense budget to match, the 2023 proposal also sees a reduction in the number of total active personnel across the US military. The US Army, for example, is expected to drop around 3,000 troops across all its sectors.

The US Navy is set to decommission 24 ships, including the problematic nine littoral combat ships and five cruisers. These littoral combat ships were intended to be part of the US deterrence efforts in the Pacific.t frequent breakdowns and the need for maintenance questioned the vessel’s capability. However, the budget includes the procurement of 2 DDG-51 Arleigh Burke Class Destroyers worth $5.6 billion, 1 Frigate (FFG(X)) worth $1.3 billion, and 2 Virginia class classes Submarines worth $7.3 billion.

In the air, the Pentagon also intends to decrease the yearly acquisition of F-35 aircraft from 85 purchases last year down to 61 units worth $11 billion. They also plan to procure 24 F-15EX worth $2.8 billion, 13 KC-46 Pegasus planes worth $2.9 billion, and the NGAD (Air Force) worth $1.7 billion. The Air Force also proposed the retirement of some of its F-22 fighters and A-10 attack planes.

Furthermore, the Nuclear Enterprise Modernization program is also included in the budget, where the US is pouring investments into a B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber worth $5 million, COLUMBIA Class Ballistic Missile Submarine worth $6.3 million, Long-Range Stand-Off (LRSO) Missile worth $1 billion, and Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) worth $3.6 billion.

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These plans are likely to be met with resistance in Congress, which disfavors rollbacks that will damage the weapon industries and facilities in their respective districts. However, an unnamed defense official told CNN that the increased budget was not intended to enlarge the active force but rather modernize it to challenge US rivals.

“The growth in the top line is not about making the force bigger,” said the official. It’s about modernizing the force to compete with our near-peer adversaries.”

The emphasis on modernization saw the largest-ever proposal for research and development at $130.1 billion. The proposal also requests around $56.5 billion for airpower platforms and systems, $40.8 billion at sea for nine battle force ships, and $12.6 billion to update the fighting vehicles for the Army and the Marine Corps.

“As I have said many times, we need resources matched to strategy, strategy matched to policy, and policy matched to the will of the American people. This budget gives us the resources we need to deliver on that promise,” Defense Secretary Austin said.