Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump on Wednesday detailed an ambitious and potentially expensive buildup of the military if elected, promising to plus up the number of troops, ships and aircraft to achieve "peace through strength."
The plans include an active-duty Army of 540,000 soldiers, a Navy of 350 ships, an Air Force fleet of 1,200 fighter aircraft and a Marine Corps stocked with 36 battalions. Trump said he also will build a "a state-of-the-art missile defense system" and modernize the Navy's cruisers to provide ballistic missile defense capabilities.
"Our military is so depleted. We will rebuild our military," he said. "This will increase certainty in the defense budget … and most importantly, we will be defended. Without defense, we don't have a country."
The plans, which came amid a flurry of military and veterans proposals from the two major party candidates in recent days, don’t come with a specific price tag.
But Trump insisted that cutting government waste and "common sense" budgeting moves, in the Defense Department and other agencies, will pay for the hundreds of billions of dollars the new personnel and equipment will cost.
He estimated that nearly $400 billion a year can be brought in through stricter enforcement of tax laws, and advocated "responsible attrition" of the federal workforce to help offset the military spending. But even those theoretical savings might not be enough to cover the massive military buildup.
He did not specify his plans for the number of troops in the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.
Many of the proposals outlined by the Republican standard bearer in his Philadelphia speech come from the conservative Heritage Institute, which has advocated for tying defense spending to the country’s gross domestic product.
President Obama has outlined plans to draw down the active-duty Army to 450,000 in coming years. Republican lawmakers have fought against that idea, but struggled to find ways to pay for a plus-up above that total.
The Navy has about 280 deployable battleships, and the Marine Corps sits at 24 battalions. Air Force leaders have repeatedly voiced concerns that its fighter fleet is headed for the lowest in history.
Paying for any of those items will require Congress to repeal defense spending caps passed in 2011. Trump promised to urge lawmakers to undo those restrictions, but Obama has been unsuccessful over the last five years in the same plea.
Officials from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign have called Trump’s buildup plans unrealistic and poorly planned. She has advocated "fully funding" the armed services but also advocated the importance of diplomacy and international allies in fighting terrorism worldwide.
Trump, who previously said he would not reveal his plans for how he’d combat Islamic State militants in the Middle East, on Tuesday said he would give Pentagon generals 30 days to present a new plan to defeat the terrorist network. He accused both Clinton and Obama of ignoring the problem, a charge both have called absurd.
The new details from Trump were released just a few hours before Wednesday night’s planned forum in New York on military and veterans issues. Clinton in recent days has offered recaps of her previously announced plans, focusing particularly on Trump’s Islamic State plans as ill-informed and dangerous for the country. Follow @LeoShane
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.