WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 10, 2016) -- In its fiscal year 2017 budget request, the Army - similar to its sister services - has requested for Soldiers a 1.6 percent pay raise, the largest increase in four years.

"The 2017 request for a 1.6 percent pay raise for our service members ... recognizes the unique demands and sacrifices of our service members," said Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Ierardi, director of force structure, resources and assessment with the J-8 directorate, part of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "It buys down that gap between where we want to be and where we are. The increase in that pay is the largest one over the last four-year period."

Ierardi spoke at the Pentagon, Feb. 9, where he outlined key portions of the FY17 Department of Defense budget.

The services have also requested a 2.9 percent increase in basic allowance for housing, and a 3.4 percent increase in basic allowance for subsistence.

READINESS IS PARAMOUNT

Outlining Army budget specifics was Maj. Gen. Thomas A. Horlander, director of the Army budget.

"Prioritize readiness," said Horlander, calling out just two words on a slide he used to brief the Army's budget. "As we built this budget and sought to strike the best possible balance within our top-line funding level, we ensured that our absolute No. 1 priority remained readiness. This remains our commitment to the nation - to send its sons and daughters as ready as they can possibly be for the missions they are sent to do."

That emphasis on readiness is in line with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley's own priorities.

"Readiness to fight and win - ground combat is and will remain the U.S. Army's No. 1 priority. And there will be no other No. 1," Milley said at his swearing in last August. "We will always be ready to fight today, and we will always prepare to fight tomorrow."

The Army budget request for FY17 is $148 billion dollars. That includes $125 billion in the base budget, plus an additional $23 billion in overseas contingency operations funding. The request is approximately the same as what was enacted for the FY16 budget.

Within the base budget, requests across all top-line budgetary categories have decreased from what was enacted in the FY16 budget. The only exception is the request for operations and maintenance. That increased from $43.8 billion in FY16 to $45.2 billion in FY17.

"This is the funding primarily used to generate current readiness," Horlander said. "Resourcing constraints did not allow us to modernize our equipment and facilities at the same pace as we sought to minimize the risk to current readiness."

Readiness, he said, has been maintained and protected - at the cost of modernization and end strength.

For the Regular Army, the budget requests $35.4 billion for operations and maintenance funding, "that seeks to resource a more balanced readiness across the force, instead of the tiered readiness of previous years, where only approximately one-third of the Army's brigade combat teams were ready for contingency force operations," Horlander said.

Now, Horlander said, the Army's readiness goals are to have two-thirds of its Regular Army forces ready at any time.

To support an Army focused on "decisive action" readiness, and with a capability to conduct "major combat operations," the budget proposal requests funding to support 19 combat training center rotations.

"These rotations are focused on decisive-action training for both the Regular Army and the reserve components," Horlander said.

Funding is also requested for regional engagement activities and training missions with allies and strategic partners. That includes activities like Pacific Pathways.

Additionally, the FY17 budget request asks for increased funding for sustainment of Army equipment and an increase in depot maintenance to bring Army equipment to a greater level of repair.

For the reserve components, the budget requests $9.6 billion in operations and maintenance funding. For the Guard, the funding, like for the Regular Army, "seeks to grow readiness to include decisive action training, sustain the force, and fund critical base operations requirements."

MODERNIZATION

For FY17, the Army's modernization budget has gone down from an enacted $24 billion in FY16 to a requested $22.6 billion in FY17. That $22.6 billion includes $15.1 billion for procurement as well as $7.5 billion for research, development, testing and evaluation.

That reduction represents a risk where the Army has opted for readiness over modernization.

"We assess that this risk will continue until we achieve a greater balance between readiness, end strength and modernization, early into the next decade," Horlander said.

Nevertheless, the budget request includes 12 new-start programs, and no program terminations, he said. The request supports aviation modernization, funds improvements to ground combat vehicle fleets, and begins efforts to increase lethality and mobility for brigade combat teams.

"The Army requires a very broad and encompassing set of modernization efforts to be capable of being successful in any number of diverse missions in support of the combatant commanders," he said. "Our focus remains on the Soldier and the squad, providing aviation and combat vehicles that provide mobility, protection and fire power; to mission command that enables situational awareness and networking; to the Soldier portfolio that provides the individual Soldier with lethality, survivability, and increased visibility."

Within the $22.6 billion modernization budget request, the Army has asked for $15.1 billion for procurement. This request focuses heavily on aircraft procurement - about $3.6 billion is requested for aviation. The investment plan is in line with the Army's Aviation Restructure Initiative, though Horlander said that with the recent release of the recommendations by the National Commission on the Future of the Army, "the Army is studying the recommendations and is assessing the impact to its FY17 funding program."

For aviation, the budget request prioritizes modernization of Apache, Black Hawk and Chinook helicopter fleets, Horlander said. He said the Chinook fleet conversion, for instance, will be completed in FY18. He also said the budget includes funding for aircraft survivability improvements.

Within ground combat vehicles, the FY17 request provides funding for improvements to the M1 Abrams tank, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, fielding a third Stryker double-V hull brigade set, and conversion of additional flat-bottom hull Strykers to double-V hulls for a fourth double-V hull Stryker set.

The research, development test and evaluation budget request for FY17 is about the same as that which was enacted for FY16. Within that budget are two new program starts for the Army infantry, including "a ground mobile vehicle for a nine-man infantry squad, and a mobile protected fire power that enhances direct fire capabilities of infantry brigade combat teams," Horlander said.

INSTALLATION READINESS

The Army's FY17 budget request for facilities is approximately $1.3 billion, less than what was enacted in FY16. It includes "one of the smallest military construction budgets in recent years."

For FY17, the Army hopes to fund 29 military construction projects across the force, including 15 within the Regular Army, 10 within the Army National Guard, and four within the Army Reserve.

Within the facilities request, only Army Family housing saw an increase. There, growth is aimed at two Family housing construction projects in Korea.

OVERSEAS CONTINGENCY OPERATIONS

This year, the request for overseas contingency operations, or OCO, funds totals $25 billion, Horlander said. It supports Operation Freedom's Sentinel in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Qatar. It also supports Operation Spartan Shield within U.S. Central Command, Inherent Resolve in Iraq, and the European Reassurance Initiative, or ERI.

The ERI, Horlander said, "is a means to ensure our NATO allies, and to deter a resurgent Russia, and constitutes much of the growth in the Army's OCO request."

The $2.8 billion requested within OCO funds for ERI supports the rotation of an armored brigade combat team and its enablers. It also supports a full armored brigade combat team static set of prepositioned stocks.

NEW CHALLENGES

Horlander said the Army's budget for FY17 was designed with readiness as a No. 1 priority. But other issues have driven its development as well.

Horlander cited five "evolving security challenges" that are now a threat to the United States -- challenges that have recently been called out by defense secretary. Among those challenges are a return of "great power competition" - which is evidenced by Russian actions in Europe, and a rising China; the threat to the United States and its allies by North Korea; Iranian influence; and the continuing fight against global terrorism.

The general emphasized the importance of balancing readiness, end strength and modernization as a way to sustain the ground forces that will be necessary to generate support to combatant commanders now and into the future.

He said reduction in modernization and equipping accounts puts the Army's technological advantage at risk. Reductions to funding for installations and infrastructure puts future readiness at risk, he said, because Army facilities will require more funding in the future to compensate for years of disrepair.

"Marginalizing one component of readiness to benefit the other may net a near-term solution, but may create an unacceptable risk in the out years," he said. "The U.S. Army needs to retain force structure and end strength, readiness and cutting edge equipment - all critical components to our national security."