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Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg July 15, 2020

Number of soldiers unchanged at 475,000

When President Donald Trump was running for office, the U.S. Army had 475,000 active duty personnel. He said he would build that to 540,000.

The Defense Department's latest report for April 2020 puts the Army count at 475,000 soldiers.

Trump was able to stop the cuts the Obama administration had in mind. That budget map aimed to reduce the Army to 460,000 in 2017 and 450,000 in 2018. However, before Trump took office, Congress rejected that plan and approved enough money for 476,000 troops.

Counting soldiers is one way to gauge the Army's strength, but there are others, said Thomas Mahnken, president and CEO of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington defense strategy think tank.

"The size of the Army matters, but even more crucial is its overall effectiveness," Mahnken said. 

He said the Army has become stronger through buying new aircraft, ground vehicles and long-range precision missiles and artillery.

Dakota Wood, a top defense fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said that while reaching 540,000 soldiers is a good goal, combat readiness has improved "tremendously" under Trump.

"Broken equipment has been fixed, depleted inventories of munitions have been restocked, and various modernization programs have been started," Wood said.

In short, both experts say the Army is stronger than it was before, even if Trump didn't meet his goal of 540,000 troops.

But that's what he promised. The number today is the same as when he took office. We rate this a Promise Broken.


Our Sources

U.S. Department of Defense, DoD Personnel, Workforce Reports & Publications, April 2020

Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Military Personnel, Aug. 15, 2015

Congressional Budget Office, Defense: FY2017 Budget Request, Authorization, and Appropriations, June 28, 2017

U.S. Congress, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, Dec. 23, 2016

Email exchange, Dakota Wood, Senior Research Fellow for Defense Programs, Heritage Foundation, June 22, 2020

Email exchange, Thomas G. Mahnken, president and CEO, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, June 23, 2020

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg April 20, 2017

Trump's budget request for Army falls short

Candidate Donald Trump said he would rebuild the Army and he was very specific in what he meant.

"We will build an active Army of around 540,000, as the Army's chief of staff has said he needs," Trump said Sept. 7, 2016. "We now have only 31 Brigade Combat Teams, or 490,000 troops, and only one-third of combat teams are considered combat-ready."

Trump's budget calls for an additional $54 billion for the base defense budget, or a total of $603 billion in FY 2018.

We are at the start of the budget process. It starts in the House and then passes over to the Senate, so we can't go beyond noting that Trump has offered a down payment on his promise.

That said, the Republican-controlled House Armed Service Committee voiced its concern with Trump's numbers. In a letter to the House Budget Committee, it said the money wouldn't be enough.

"That level of funding will not accomplish the administration's goals," chair Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, wrote. "Instead, we fear that it would unintentionally lock in a slow fix to readiness, consistent with the Obama Administration's previous position, from which we would not be able to dig out."

Thornberry said that about $640 billion would be needed to begin the process of repairing and rebuilding the country's military.

Todd Harrison, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, echoed the House committee's overall conclusion. The $54 billion would do little, he said.

"Most of it will be needed to cover cost growth in the current force and pay for the backlog of training and maintenance that has built up over the past few years," Harrison said.

By his count, to make good on the expansion Trump described during the campaign, Washington would need to spend $80 to $100 billion more in 2018 and then stay at that level.

Trump is also seeking an extra $25 billion in FY 2017. That would help him in his efforts, but still fall well short.

Harrison also emphasized that Trump, like President Barack Obama before him, needs Congress to go along with blowing through the budget caps required by the 2011 Budget Control Act. That is a considerable hurdle.

We'll see how the numbers shake out over Trump's term in office. For now, we rate this promise In the Works.

Our Sources

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