Military Intelligence Gets Big Boost With Return to Great Power Competition

Congress' miliary-intelligence appropriation increased by $3.7 billion from Fiscal 2017 to Fiscal 2018. Photo by La Citta Vita.

The Defense Department is spending billions more on classified intelligence programs, with the most recent numbers representing the biggest spike in years. In Fiscal 2018, Congress appropriated $22.1 billion for military intelligence—a $3.7 billion increase from Fiscal 2017 appropriated funds and $1.4 billion more than what was originally requested in Fiscal 2018.

The US hasn’t spent that kind of money on military intelligence since 2011, when Congress appropriated $24 billion for black programs.

The Air Force in March requested $1.44 billion in its unfunded priorities list, and the vast majority of those funds—$800 million—was to go to classified programs. It was a significant departure from previous unfunded priorities lists, which typically sought additional aircraft, such as the F-35 joint strike fighter.

The ramp-up in classified funding comes amid a return to “great power competition,” as outlined in the most recent National Security Strategy. “Our competitive advantage has eroded over time, and that needs to be dealt with,” Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told military reporters last week.

He talked about the changing “character of war,” noting that any future conflict will cut across multiple regions, multiple combatant commands, and multiple domains. The security environment is changing faster than it ever has before, and the US military must evolve along with it if it is to stay relevant.

Dunford said that the equipment he was using when he entered the Marine Corps in 1977 would have been familiar to veterans of World War II who served nearly 40 years earlier. But a lieutenant who entered the service in 2018 would have no understanding of the tactics, techniques, procedures or equipment that the same unit used in 2000.

“There’s virtually nothing in that organization that hasn’t changed in the past 16 or 17 years,” Dunford said.