WASHINGTON—The U.S. Army has proposed a 2020 budget plan that would eliminate or scale back some of its most enduring and best known equipment programs to free up money for investing in the weapons and hardware of the future.
Two Army mainstays scheduled for cuts—the Bradley fighting vehicle, dating to the 1980s, and the CH-47 Chinook helicopter, first introduced in 1962—are known to generations of service members.
But like dozens of other programs, they will give way to next-generation technology under the Army proposal. The budget would divert money from the Bradley, Chinook and other programs to develop new gear including combat vehicles that use artificial intelligence and a precision-strike missile to double the firepower of current artillery systems, officials said.
In all, more than 180 equipment and weapons platforms would be cut or scaled back in what top officials said marks the most consequential budget in more than 40 years. The plan is contained in an overall $182 billion budget for the Army, part of a Pentagon budget proposal for $718 billion in 2020—a $33 billion increase over 2019 spending.
Despite the hike in military spending, the Army can’t afford to continue the old programs while developing new ones as it gears up to counter Russia and China in a modernization effort focused on other global military powers. The Army is realigning as much as $30 billion of its budget over the next five years, officials said.
“We are making the hard, painful choices to live within our means while making sure that our soldiers have what they need to fight and win,” Army Secretary Mark Esper said in an interview.
Gone this year alone will be millions of dollars that otherwise would have been spent on the Bradley and Chinook, as well as the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, or JLTV, made by
Smaller cuts are proposed to other programs including mine-clearance vehicles, Humvee trailers, bulldozers and forklifts.
That money will go toward six modernization priorities: a new combat vehicle to replace the Bradley; helicopters known as Future Vertical Lift; long-range precision missiles; missile defense; communication networks; and what Army officials call soldier “lethality.”
The budget proposal is sure to draw scrutiny from members of Congress, who are expected to raise concerns about the elimination of or cuts to existing programs that stand to affect companies and job opportunities in their home districts, officials and analysts said.
has launched a lobbying campaign in an effort to maintain the current level of purchases, while
PLC, which produces the Bradley, said it had been informed of the planned cuts as the Army changed its priorities.
Army officials argue the proposed cuts are necessary to better prepare the service for the future, and analysts say the Army is going about it in a way that makes sense economically and politically.
“There are no big pots of waste, there are little pots of waste that are scattered throughout” the military, said Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a bipartisan think tank in Washington. “I would say ‘kudos’ to the Army for finding all those little pots of money,” Mr. Harrison said. “When you do it 186 times, you actually find some savings and use it to pay for something more useful.”
Mr. Harrison added that it will be harder for Congress to attempt to roll back the Army’s budget proposal, because the service is presenting the cuts along with its pitch for modernizing the force and its equipment. “If this is done well, Congress will like all the things that are being added.”
Much of the Army’s pivot to next-generation platforms will take place over the next five years, but Army officials said the seeds are being planted in the fiscal 2020 budget.
The plans for the budget proposal have developed over the past several months, when top Army officials said they held a series of meetings they came to call “night court.” During those meetings, spanning dozens of late-night hours, officials said they assessed programs to determine whether they were worthy of further funding and whether they were applicable to the challenges the Army faces.
Ryan McCarthy, undersecretary of the Army, acknowledged there will be a debate in Congress over the Army’s budget. “We’re moving a lot of money,” he said, but added: “We hope that they give us the opportunity to explain the choices that we made.”
—Doug Cameron in Chicago contributed to this article.
Write to Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com