The Pentagon is seeking an overall budget increase next year, but spending on military personnel will remain essentially flat, squeezed by cuts in the size of the force and recent efforts to scale back troops' pay and benefits.
The Defense Department's budget request for fiscal 2016, which starts Oct. 1, seeks a total budget of $585.3 billion, roughly 4.4 percent more than this year's total defense budget.
Meanwhile, the portion of the budget that accounts for military personnel will tick downward by a small fraction to $139.9 billion, or about $55 million less than the amount approved for this year, according to budget documents released Monday.
Those figures include both the base budget and funding for overseas operations.
Most of the 4.4 percent increase in the overall Pentagon budget will fund new weapons systems and more research and development for new technologies, the budget documents show.
The nominal decline in personnel spending sought for 2016 could make it the fifth consecutive year that the personnel budget account has dropped since reaching a peak of $152 billion in 2010.
The bulk of that reduction stems from a drawdown in the size of the total force, in particular the Army and Marine Corps, which have shed more than 70,000 service members over the past several years and brought the total size of the active-duty force down to about 1.3 million troops.
Specifically, this year's budget projects that the total force will shrink by another 11,900 troops. That includes cutting 15,000 soldiers from the Army while expanding the Navy by 1,500 sailors and the Air Force by 1,700 airmen.
Pentagon officials note that the per-troop costs have risen significantly since 2001 as Congress granted a series of generous pay raises and new benefits to troops during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Top Pentagon officials say that cost growth is unsustainable and continue to seek reductions to military compensation in an effort to scale back the growth in per-troop costs.
"The department cannot allow its personnel costs to crowd out investments in the readiness and modernization portions of the budget which are essential to providing needed training and equipment for its warriors to carry into combat and accomplish the incredible array of missions undertaken around the globe every day," DoD officials wrote in their budget overview published Monday.
The budget request for next year also urges Congress to approve new cuts to Basic Allowance for Housing rates, new health care fees and reductions to the commissary benefit.
Spending on personnel, which includes health care, comprises about 33.5 percent of this year's budget, down from 36.1 percent in 2014, budget documents show.
Andrew Tilghman is the executive editor for Military Times. He is a former Military Times Pentagon reporter and served as a Middle East correspondent for the Stars and Stripes. Before covering the military, he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in Texas, the Albany Times Union in New York and The Associated Press in Milwaukee.