Army leadership reached its mark to find at least $25 billion in funding it will cut from lower-tier priorities and shift over to its six modernization priorities, according to Army Secretary Mark Esper, with officials already beginning the process of assessing potential reductions to training and sustainment budgets, according to Secretary Mark Esper.

Esper said Friday the upcoming fiscal year 2020 budget, expected to be released in mid-March, will reflect a reduction in programs deemed “unnecessary upgrades” or “duplicative” with other systems.

Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper.

“We looked at our entire equipping budget and went through from top to bottom and put all those programs we need to fight and win in the future and funded those first,” Esper said during a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) discussion with his Air Force and Navy counterparts. “And, frankly, divested, either through reductions, eliminations or delays, a number of other programs.”

The “night court” process, led by Esper and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, aimed to find $25 billion in proposed funding over the next five years the Army could shift to its six modernization priorities: long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift, modernizing the tactical network, air & missile defense and soldier lethality (Defense Daily, Oct. 2018).

“We made our mark over the [Future Year Defense Program],” Esper told reporters following the CSIS event. “It is a difficult process because everybody feels strongly about their programs. It’s tough, that’s why it’s never been done before, at least with that magnitude within the United States Army.”

Milley in January said the process has resulted in around 80 canceled programs and the downgrading or delaying of 106 other efforts (Defense Daily, Jan. 16).

Esper said Army leadership has already started the next round of ranking and cutting low-tier priorities for the fiscal year 2021 budget, which will be taken out from training, installation, sustainment and manning budgets.

“We’re already beginning round two for our equipping budget for FY ’21. So this is going to be a process that continues on and on,” Esper said.

Esper said Army leadership is focused on fully funding modernization priorities to ensure next-generation weapon systems are built out ahead of future potential conflict with peer competitors.

“There will be big shifts in our budget. If I’m not able to make that shift from the legacy to the future, we risk losing the first fight of the next war,” Esper said. “If we do not modernize the force now, we risk losing a future against Russia or China.”