It’s a good time to be a defense contractor.
Weeks after the White House released its budget request, which provided a massive increase in defense spending, Congress took over and added even more money for ships, aircraft and missile defenses in what amounts to a spending spree on major weapons systems.
As part of the $1.3 trillion omnibus bill signed by President Trump on Friday, defense spending will jump to $700 billion, the largest increase in 15 years.
“We need to take care of our military,” Trump said. “Our military is very depleted. But it’s rapidly getting better. And in a short period of time, it will be stronger than it’s ever been.”
Some budget analysts fear the infusion of cash could galvanize the Pentagon to invest in new programs that it won’t ultimately be able to sustain if the high level of spending doesn’t remain constant.
“The problem is, you can start ramping up, but if you don’t have a long-term budget deal to maintain this level of funding, a lot of this could get wasted,” said Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “In many cases, we spent billions developing new technologies and new weapons but didn’t buy them, and that’s an ever-present concern when you’ve got a buildup in defense spending like this.”
One of the biggest boosts in funding is for aircraft. In all, the Pentagon would get 143 additional planes, bringing the total of aircraft procurement spending to $44 billion, a 27 percent increase over the White House budget request. The big winner is Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the stealth F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
After initially criticizing the cost of the F-35 as the most expensive weapons program in the history of the Pentagon, Trump at a separate event on Thursday praised the jet as “that beautiful F-35. It’s stealth, you cannot see it. Is that correct? It better be correct.”
Under the spending plan, the Pentagon would spend an additional $3 billion to buy 20 more of the F-35s. There’s another $740 million for 10 more of Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornets, $676 million for additional V-22 helicopters and $510 million for three additional KC-46 tankers.
The Pentagon “went gonzo” on aircraft procurement, said Steve Ellis, the vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group. “Really what this comes down to is: More is not a strategy, and there is no underlying rhyme or rationale for the increases, except for they had money to spend.”
The plan would also raise spending on shipbuilding, giving the Navy an additional $3.4 billion for construction of new ships.
Missile defense is another area where contractors could see their bottom lines increase. The Pentagon would spend an additional $1 billion on two of Lockheed’s missile defense systems, bringing total appropriations for the Missile Defense Agency to $11.5 billion.
Rep. Kay Granger (R-Tex.), chair of the defense appropriations subcommittee, defended the spending plan, saying in a statement that huge investments in national security were overdue.
“Our military is trying to recover from 16 years of war,” she said.
Granger also lauded increased funding in research and development, particularly in areas such as space, electronic warfare and hypersonics — vehicles that could fly at speeds of Mach 5 or greater. Many in the Pentagon, including Michael Griffin, the new undersecretary of defense of research and engineering, think hypersonics, a technology also pursued by the Chinese, needs to be a top priority for the Pentagon.