This is an archived course. A more recent version may be available at

U.S. Military Budget and Force Planning

As taught in: Fall 2004

A photo of a silhouetted F-18C Hornet landing on an aircraft carrier.
Recovery of an F-18C Hornet. (Photo by PHAN Ryan O'Connor. Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense.)


Dr. Cindy Williams

MIT Course Number:




Course Description

The United States is spending about $400 billion this year on national defense, some $40 billion on homeland security, and $85 billion on military operations and nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan. This course is for students who want to know how the dollars we spend on national security relate to military forces, systems, and policy choices, and who wish to develop a personal tool kit for framing and assessing defense policy alternatives.

The course aims to familiarize students with budgetary concepts and processes; to examine relationships among strategy, forces, and budgets; to explore tradeoffs among the main categories of defense spending; and to develop frameworks for identifying the costs of new military policies. The course begins with an overview of U.S. spending for national defense over the past 35 years and a look at the federal fiscal pressures that may affect military spending in the future. It continues with an examination of mismatches between the defense budget and the military strategy and forces it supports. Later sessions grapple with matching forces to budgets and developing alternatives for equipping the force. One session focuses on federal spending for homeland security and combating terrorism. In addition, several sessions will explore frameworks for reform of the infrastructure activities and military pay and benefits that together make up the lion's share of the military budget.