CBO Releases an Updated Interactive Tool for Analyzing the Size and Cost of the U.S. Military

Posted by
Adam Talaber
November 8, 2023

Today, the Congressional Budget Office updated and enhanced its interactive force structure tool. The online tool lets users customize the structure of the U.S. military’s forces to see the effects on defense spending, or customize the defense budget to see the effects on the size and structure of the military. It also provides information about the major combat units that make up the armed forces, including their number, size, functions, and average annual costs over the 2024–2028 period.

What Is New in the Updated Version?

This new version includes updated costs and personnel numbers that reflect the Department of Defense’s 2024 budget request. In addition, it includes more precision about certain Army and Navy units. The Army’s field artillery brigades and air-defense brigades, which CBO previously included in support personnel and costs for brigade combat teams, are now separate units whose size can be adjusted directly. The Navy’s amphibious assault ships—some of the largest and most costly vessels in the U.S. fleet—have also been broken out separately from other, smaller amphibious ships.

How Can the Interactive Tool Be Useful?

Want to see what effect an increase or decrease of $50 billion a year in the defense budget would have on U.S. forces? Want to know how an increase in the number of ships or special forces would affect defense spending? The tool can help you answer those questions and explore other policy alternatives.

Educators can use the tool to introduce their students to the wide array of U.S. forces and engage in “what if” analysis of possible changes to those forces.

A tutorial page explains how to use the tool, a set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) provides additional detailed information, and several spreadsheets show the data underlying the tool.

Can I See What Is Under the Hood?

The updated tool is based on a cost model for the military that CBO developed for its series of reports titled The U.S. Military’s Force Structure: A Primer. The tool shows the raw cost factors and quantities included in CBO’s model, allowing users to view, use, or alter the model. Users can also export detailed data files if they want to conduct more in-depth analysis than the tool permits. Those data files document all the cost factors and default settings used in the model, as well as technical factors such as phase-in rates, deflators, and CBO’s projections of the U.S. military’s costs over the next decade.

Adam Talaber is an analyst in CBO’s National Security Division.