Pentagon Wants to Classify Its Future Plans

The Pentagon wants to make its future plans even more secret.

New documents released March 30 show the Defense Department asking Congress for authority to stop producing an unclassified version of its Future Years Defense Program—its five-year plan for future spending that is released alongside its budget. Required since 1989, the FYDP shows the Pentagon’s near-future priorities and spending plans in the “out-years,” which drive its decision making.

According to a March 6 proposal, first published by the Federation of American Scientists, the Pentagon argues it should not make the document public, starting with the fiscal 2021 defense authorization bill.

“The department is concerned that attempting publication of unclassified FYDP data might inadvertently reveal sensitive information,” the department wrote. “With the ready availability of data mining tools and techniques, and the large volume of data on the department’s operations and resources already available in the public domain, additional unclassified FYDP data, if it were released, potentially allows adversaries to derive sensitive information about the department’s weapons development, force structure, and strategic plans.”

Additionally, the Pentagon argues that releasing the plans potentially harms its interactions with industry because “exposing resources allocated to future acquisition plans may encourage bids and other development activities not beneficial to the government.”

The Pentagon would continue to give Congress the full, classified documents but the department is also asking lawmakers to strike a requirement that they certify the data used to construct the plan is accurate. This, the department argues, is unnecessary.

The proposal continues the Pentagon’s long push to classify more of its plans. In recent years, the department has decreased the public availability of the National Military Strategy, for example.

The increased classification in this year’s budget cycle is presenting a challenge for the Air Force, though leaders say it is required. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein has said the service faces an uphill battle in presenting an open case for cutting legacy systems because much of what it plans to do in the future to replace those capabilities is classified.

“Not surprisingly, of the services, the air and space forces have the largest classified portfolio of investment. This makes the story harder to tell,” Goldfein told lawmakers in early March. “Since most of what we’re retiring is unclassified and visible, while many of our game-changing investments are classified and therefore invisible, we want to thank many of you for taking our classified briefing and offer it to any of you, or your staff, between now and endgame. When you see what we’re trading for, our budget submission will make perfect sense.”