Five challenges facing Trump’s military

Five challenges facing Trump’s military

President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump PACs brought in over M for the first half of 2021 Chicago owes Trump M tax refund, state's attorney mounts legal challenge Biden hits resistance from unions on vaccine requirement MORE often boasts of U.S. military might, taking credit for restoring its former glory.

“It’s now a new force, a great force,” Trump said at a recent speech at the Washington Marine barracks. “We have the finest equipment, the finest planes, the finest missiles and rockets, ships.

“Some are being built. Just gave out a tremendous order for brand-new F-35s — fighter jets. They’re stealth. You can’t see them,” he added, reviving his often-repeated falsehood that F-35s are actually invisible.

But the military is facing a number of challenges, from continued efforts to restore readiness after years of Washington’s budget dysfunction to work on fulfilling Trump orders such as standing up Space Force.

Here are five challenges facing Trump’s military:

The budget

Years of congressional budget fights have taken a toll on the military to the point where some lawmakers were referring to a readiness “crisis.”

As evidence, they point to last year’s fatal Navy ship collision, as well as this year’s spate of deadly aircraft accidents.

The past two years saw major hikes in defense spending, to $700 billion in fiscal year 2018 and $716 billion in fiscal year 2019.

Officials have said those increases are helping to reverse the readiness trends, but that the work continues.

But another budget fight is on the horizon. Democrats who will control the House in January want to cut defense spending, while Republicans who control the Senate want to increase it to $733 billion. Trump, meanwhile, has said he plans to propose a $700 billion defense budget for fiscal year 2020.

Space Force

It will ultimately be up to Congress whether to establish a separate branch of the military dedicated to space.

But the Pentagon is working to lay the groundwork now.

Chief among its tasks is to get an official proposal, including projected costs, to Congress. The Pentagon has said it will send Congress its legislative proposal in February.

The potential cost has been one of the big question marks hanging over the project. A widely leaked Air Force memo pegged the costs in the first five years at $13 billion.

Proponents of Space Force accused the Air Force, which in the past has opposed the plan, of inflating the costs to drive congressional opposition.

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan recently estimated the costs will be in the single-digit billions, likely falling between $5 billion and $10 billion.

Even if Congress does not create Space Force, the Pentagon is working to better focus on space in other ways. It plans to stand up a U.S. Space Command to better coordinate space military operations and a Space Development Agency to improve acquisition.

The “great power competition”

The National Defense Strategy released early this year called for a shift in focus away from counterterrorism, which has consumed the U.S. military for years.

In its place, the strategy called for a return to the so-called great power competition with near-peer competitors such as Russia and China.

One tangible sign of the military efforts to follow the strategy was a recent Pentagon announcement that it will draw down its troops in Africa over the next several years. The Pentagon said the cuts will be less than 10 percent of the 7,200 U.S. troops assigned to Africa.

But a congressionally mandated report released recently found the military could struggle to fight Russia and China because of a combination of political, financial and international issues that “has eroded” U.S. military superiority “to a dangerous degree.”

“The U.S. military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and loss of major capital assets in its next conflict,” the National Defense Strategy Commission report said. “It might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia. The United States is particularly at risk of being overwhelmed should its military be forced to fight on two or more fronts simultaneously.”


After 17 years at war, the United States continues to struggle in Afghanistan.

Trump announced his strategy for the war last summer. His plan included sending thousands more troops to the country and taking away a timeline for withdrawal in hopes of convincing the Taliban it cannot win on the battlefield and so must negotiate peace.

But the security situation has continued to deteriorate. A recent inspector general report found that, at 55.5 percent, Afghan government control or influence over its districts is at the lowest point since the watchdog began tracking that data in 2015.

The New York Times recently reported that Jaghori, once considered a district safe from the Taliban, was on the verge of falling after the insurgents slaughtered Afghan commandos.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently said 28,000 Afghan forces have been killed in the past four years. That comes after Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Trump says Gen. Milley 'last person' he'd want to start a coup with Overnight Defense: Former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld dies at 88 | Trump calls on Milley to resign | House subpanel advances Pentagon spending bill MORE said 1,000 Afghan forces were killed or injured in August and September.

But U.S. officials insist the strategy is working, citing signs the Taliban is more open to negotiations to end the war even as violence escalates. The administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, reportedly met with Taliban officials in October in Qatar.

Still, it’s unclear how much longer Trump will want to stay in Afghanistan, given that it took months to convince him to stay there before he announced his strategy.

Missile defense

One of the big mysteries at the Pentagon is when the Missile Defense Review will be released.

The review of the military’s missile defense needs was originally supposed to be released in late 2017 and then in February. But it was further pushed back when the administration decided to expand its scope from ballistic missile defense to all missile defense.

Since then, officials have intermittently promised it was coming soon.

Shanahan told reporters in October the review was completed and informing the administration’s fiscal 2020 budget proposal, but did not say when it would be publicly released.

At a recent think tank event, Michael Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said the department is planning to increase investment in directed-energy systems used for missile defense, but declined to comment on the status of the Missile Defense Review.