U.S. Military Will Cost About $6 Trillion* Over Next Decade, Says CBO

*Not including the cost of ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Niger...or the $4.8 trillion debt already accumulated from the post-9/11 wars.


Glowimages Glow Images/Newscom

American taxpayers will send approximately $6 trillion to the Pentagon over the next decade, as military costs are projected to hit levels 20 percent higher than their Cold War peak, the Congressional Budget Office says in a new analysis.

That doesn't include the cost of so-called "overseas contingency operations," military slang for the billions of spent off-budget every year to fight the never-ending and open-ended War on Terror.

The current federal budget calls for $575 billion to fund the U.S. military, with another $65 billion in OCO costs. The Trump administration's goals for the military—which included a $54 billion boost in Pentagon spending this year—will result in "steady increases" in annual base budgets for the next decade, with non-war-costs hitting $688 billion by 2027, according to the CBO.

Three policies will drive the military budget higher, the CBO analysis says. An increase in the number of military personnel, perhaps by as much as 10 percent (an increase of about 237,000 people). A 30 percent expansion to 355 ships in the Navy fleet. And the cost of weapons (along with research and development, a.k.a. contracts to defense contractors) and military equipment is expected "to outpace inflation."

If the military budget hits $688 billion, as the CBO expects, it would be about 20 percent higher than Pentagon's peak annual spending, adjusted for inflation, during the final stages of the Cold War in the 1980s. The Trump administration's plans to grow the size and cost of the military will cost taxpayers $683 billion more than projections for the next decade made at the end of the Obama administration.

"About half of that difference ($342 billion) would result from implementing the Trump Administration's goals for expanding the size of the military after 2018," CBO analysts write. "The other half of that difference would accrue primarily because more spending is planned for readiness and for research and development than was included in the Obama Administration's final budget plan."

The CBO's estimated $6 trillion price tag for the next decade almost certainly underestimates how much Americans will end up spending to maintain the world's foremost military.

The CBO does not included OCO costs in long-term projections—though the agency says it is now trying to incorporate some elements of those costs in future projections. For now, though, "currently available data are insufficient for CBO to include such estimates," even after 17 years of off-the-books war spending. Since 2001, those OCO costs have totaled "about $2 trillion (in 2018 dollars), or nearly 20 percent of DoD's total funding for the period," CBO says.

There's also other non-Pentagon military spending to consider. Back in 2014, economists at the Mercatus Center identified more than $250 billion in non-Defense Department military spending, which would not be included in the new CBO analysis, either. Other spending included funding for the Department of Veteran's Affairs to care for wounded soldiers and military veterans, Department of Homeland Security spending on counter-terrorism programs, and Department of State funding related to weapons training for foreign militaries and foreign aid, along with increased costs to protect U.S. embassies and consulates in war-torn countries. Additionally, retirement costs for military pensions are not included in the Pentagon's budget.

When tallying up all the spending, it's also good to keep in mind that a lot of it has been put on the federal credit card. As Ron Bailey highlighted earlier this year: The Costs of War Project at the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University calculates that "through 2017, the US federal government has spent or been obligated to spend $4.8 trillion on the post-9/11 wars, including medical and disability payments to veterans over the next 40 years."

"Unless the US changes the way it manages that debt," those researchers note, "future interest will exceed $8 trillion by the 2050s."

NEXT: Trump Just Made Two National Monuments Smaller. How Big a Deal Is That?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Okay, but can you really put a price on victory?

    1. **Mission Accomplished**

  2. Yeah but think how much they would be spending if they let trans soldiers in.

    1. More?

      1. The military costs what it needs to cost. Except for very narrow social issues. Understood.

        1. What does that come to per dark skinned child killed?

          1. Too much! But that’s because our military discriminates too much against the dark skinned people… If they just shot at any and all of them they came across we’d be getting a lot more bang for our buck!

    1. America! Fuck Yeah!

  3. Foreign adventure travel don’t come cheap.

  4. Unfortunately, though some sides will moan a little bit sometimes, Defense Spending has basically bipartisan support. There is very limited support to lessen it, hell there barely seems to be support to stop killing people, let alone cutting all the other aspects of defense.

    Combine this with the current risks of reducing spending. If a politician advocates for reduced spending and something happens, and it will something will always happen even as spending goes to infinity, that person could very likely lose their job. This is a level of hysteria people have these days.

    I can only hope we cut this tremendous government jobs program, but I can’t imagine it happening soon.

    1. Defense spending is to Democrats as Entitlement Programs are to Republicans. They are both against until it comes time to vote against them.

      1. ^ So much this.

      2. I hate that you nailed it.

  5. “future interest will exceed $8 trillion by the 2050s.”

    We are either going to give up world police and worldwide hegemony or experience an inflation rate that will grind 90% of the public into poverty..

    1. So, grinding then?

      1. Please. The US has bases in something like 148 countries. We fight needless ongoing wars against countries that did nothing to us (think kuwait, iraq, libya, Syria). This talk about “national defense is expensive, we need it” crap is offensive.

  6. Look, the NFL deserves only the bestest sounds of freedom from 5th gen fighters at pregame fly overs. I want to see goddam Patriot missiles launched from the end zones while highly trained AMERICAN soldiers spread the world’s largest flag over the entire stadium. We are citizens of the empire. We deserve it. Freedom isn’t free bitches!

  7. Do these costs even consider the VA? Afterall, we are still paying the pension of a Civil War soldier’s dependent! Science and Viagra will only drive those costs up.

    1. The Civil War ended more than 150 years ago, but the U.S. government is still paying a veteran’s pension from that conflict.

      “One beneficiary from the Civil War [is] still alive and receiving benefits,” Randy Noller of the Department of Veterans Affairs confirms.

      Irene Triplett ? the 86-year-old daughter of a Civil War veteran ? collects $73.13 each month from her father’s military pension.

        1. He was very old when he married a much younger woman and adopted her children.

          1. That makes him their father. Don’t need to make fun of bastard children and say their adopted fathers aren’t real.

  8. Nothing left to cut.

  9. If the military budget hits $688 billion, as the CBO expects, it would be about 20 percent higher than Pentagon’s peak annual spending, adjusted for inflation, during the final stages of the Cold War in the 1980s.

    And it’s this kind of dishonesty why reason will go another year with no donation from me. As %gdp we are paying about half what we paid during the 80s and about a third of what we paid in the 50s which was the last time we actually had a budget surplus. BUT, BUT INFLATION ADJUSTED!!!!! We have an all volunteer force and we have to pay them competitively. Since real incomes are HIGHER today than in the 80s or 50s we have to spend more in real terms even though we spend LESS as %gdp.

    Or to put it another way, everyone in the country would need to pay 4% of their income to fully fund the defense budget. They have to pay 6% to fully fund SS, 4% for Medicare, and another 5% for Medicaid and the other official welfare programs.

    Eric liked to quote Williamson on spending. Wonder why he doesn’t reference this or this.

    1. It’s still too goddam much.

    2. Never leave Skippy. As a matter of fact, you should write for Reason but I’m confident it would be a pay cut for you.

  10. Yes, the Federal Government of the United States of America spends money on the Defense of the Nation (that’s the official name of the expenditure.)

    Eric Boehm screaming “SIX TRILLION” makes no noise. That’s the budget, about 600 Billion per year. That’s what it costs. We spend almost 3,000 Billion on Social Services ? that is the noise.

    1) Defense is the primary job of proper government
    2) It amounts to 14% of the budget.
    3) What is the source of the claim of “$4.8 trillion debt already accumulated from the post-9/11 wars.” The slapping up of that below the headline implies that that is the amount of debt directly attributed to military spending. What is the support of that claim
    4) Please indicate where the “off budget” expenditure was booked for the last FY or two. If not in the reported spent amount for Defense, then where did it get booked?

    Objecting to this war or that war is one thing.
    Implying that the Defense of the Nation should be de-funded is another.

  11. I’m all for having the best military in the world. We’re the richest country on earth, and we probably can and should have the best military… But HOW MUCH BETTER is the question. I’d say we need to be R&D heavy, and a lot lighter on useless soldiers standing around being paid to do nothing at all of our foreign bases. And all of these useless foreign wars.

    I’ve explained to many people over the years, including hawks, that the problem with our military budget is that we don’t loot. Previous great empires spent big on military, invaded countries, and stole their shit. We spend big, invade countries, AND THEN SPEND MORE TO AID THEM IN REBUILDING! I’m not in favor of doing any of the above on the regular, but the point is that Egypt, Rome, Britain etc all lasted so long because they took spoils from their wars to pay for the wars. You can sustain such activities for a long time as evidenced by history… But when you don’t loot, but still have the expenses, no nation on earth can sustain that. This has actually caused some light bulbs to go off in some hawks heads over the years. You either be a ruthless empire, or you do not. You cannot have the spending of a ruthless empire without the looting. I choose not being a ruthless empire, but at least we’d be fiscally solvent if we actually HAD just stolen all the oil. LOL

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.