Since taking office, President Trump has ceded significant control over military decisions to Defense Secretary James Mattis and his generals, and this week Mattis is expected to announce that about 4,000 more troops will be sent to Afghanistan. That’s in addition to the 8,400 already there.
But it is not just deployment decisions that are now in the hands of the Pentagon. On the campaign trail, candidate Donald Trump promised to rebuild the military, and the generals have taken him at his word.
Reversing what was to have been a reduction in troops to 989,000 by 2018, driven in large part by budget caps imposed in 2011, the Army is now adding 28,000 soldiers. It has announced that it is on track to have a force of 1.018 million by the end of the fiscal year in September.
The numbers break down like this: 476,000 regular Army troops (up by 16,000), 343,000 in the Army National Guard (up by 8,000), and 199,000 in the Army Reserve (up by 4,000).
With the troop strength of the Marines at almost 184,000, that should give America more than 1.2 million ground troops. That compares with 1.6 million for China, which Vice says is the “largest standing ground force in the world.”
Estimates differ, but when all military forces – navies and air forces -- are added together, the WorldAtlas says that China has more citizens in uniform than any other nation, at about 2.3 million. WorldAtlas puts the U.S. in second place at about 1.5 million. However, it looks like their count is on the low side, since adding active-duty U.S. Navy and Air Force personnel – 322,900 and 317,000, respectively -- to the 1.2 million members of the Army and Marines produces a bigger number, more than 1.8 million.
Still, at some points during the Vietnam War, the U.S. military had almost twice that number – or more than 3.5 million personnel.
Whatever the exact number of current troops, there is one measure that puts the U.S. definitively in first place: budget size. By 2016, Vice says, China was spending about $144 billion on its military. According to the Defense Department, the 2018 budget proposal sent to Congress by the Trump administration is for $639.1 billion -- $52 billion over the defense budget caps.
In order to put more boots on the ground, the Army is spending big, offering re-enlistment bonuses for selected soldiers of up to $90,000 for a four-year commitment. On June 6, the AP reported that the Army had shelled out over $26 million in the previous two weeks, and it expects to spend more than $380 million in bonuses in 2017.
Among the soldiers eligible for big bonuses are those working in cryptography, cyber operations, intelligence and special ops.
“The top line message is that the Army is hiring,” Maj. Gen. Jason Evans, chief of the Human Resources Command, told the AP.