Home / Articles / How much does the US spend on the military?

In 2023, the US military spent approximately $820.3 billion, or roughly 13.3% of the entire federal budget for that fiscal year. In March 2023, the Department of Defense (DoD) requested $842.0 billion for 2024 — a 2.6% increase.

With the world’s third-largest military, at nearly 1.3 million active-duty troops, the US estimates it spends more than any other nation on its national defense. Between 2014 and 2022, the US spent more than twice as much on defense as did all other NATO members, 30 nations in total.

According to the 2022 National Defense Strategy, US military priorities include countering China’s military presence in the Indo-Pacific; deterring strategic attacks against the US and allies; defending against evolving threats like cyberattacks and addressing aggression from Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

Where does military spending go?

The annual defense budget is a comprehensive financial plan that underpins the US military’s strategic objectives. When the government renews the military budget, it allocates funds across several key areas to support national defense and the operation of the Armed Forces.

The 2024 defense budget clarifies how much funding each military department will receive. Out of the five major Armed Forces managed by the DoD, the Air Force gets the most direct funding at $216.1 billion, followed by the Navy ($202.6 billion), Army ($165.6 billion), Marine Corps ($53.2 billion), and Space Force ($30.1 billion).

The remaining DoD funds are allocated to the National Guard ($32.9 billion), along with focused programs like the Special Operations Command (US SOCOM), the Missile Defense Agency, and the Defense Health Program.

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The DoD’s 2024 defense budget was signed into law on December 22, 2023 at $841.4 billion, slightly less than was initially requested.

Has military spending increased over time?

After adjusting for inflation, defense spending has risen 62% since 1980, climbing from $506 billion to $820 billion by 2023. Despite the sizeable increase, defense spending growth lags behind overall federal expenditures, which rose 175% over the same period (also adjusted for inflation).

Defense spending responds to external pressures — wars and international conflicts — and internal pressures like reductions in government spending. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the ensuing end of the Cold War resulted in a substantial drop in defense spending throughout the 1990s; the Global War on Terror and overseas operations in Iraq and Afghanistan beginning in the 2000s saw spending rise again.

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Inflation-adjusted defense spending peaked in 2010 at $964.4 billion, partially due to evolving military situations in the Middle East like operations against the Islamic State, or ISIS.

The defense budget dropped in 2012 after the Budget Control Act of 2011, which aimed, among other things, to limit military spending to help stabilize the increasing national deficit. As of 2021, these annual caps on defense spending are gone.

What percentage of the US budget goes toward the military?

In 2023, defense spending made up 13.3% of the federal budget. Since 1980, the percentage of federal spending for the military has fluctuated between a height of 27.9% in 1987 and lows of 11% in 2020 and 2021.

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Is military spending expected to increase?

According to the Congressional Budget Office, military spending is projected to increase by 10% by 2038, after adjusting for inflation. This estimate comes from the rise in costs to compensate military personnel, the operation and maintenance budget, and a slight uptick in the cost of new weapon systems.

How does US military spending compare to other countries?

State Department data on military expenditures from 2009 to 2019 shows that the US has spent as much on its defense as the next 11 top-spending countries combined. China had the next-highest expenditure, investing, on average, less than 30% of what the US allocates. India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom trail further behind.

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Although the US significantly outpaces all other countries in total military spending, military expenditures relative to population size present a different yet crucial perspective. Analyzing defense spending per person highlights how nations with smaller populations commit a larger share of their resources to military efforts.

Looking at per-capita military spending from 2009 to 2019, Middle Eastern countries occupy six of the top 10 positions (the US is fifth). The United Arab Emirates spends an average of $3,198 per person on the military each year, compared to $2,798 in the US.

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Another way to gauge how much countries spend on their military is by measuring the proportion of military spending to GDP. This helps illustrate how much the state values national defense compared to other key economic sectors.

Measuring this way — again, from 2009 to 2019 — North Korea ranks at the top, with 23.5% of the country’s GDP coming from military expenses on average. This far outranks every other nation; the second-highest, Oman, comes in at 11.8%.

The US comes in 21st on this list, at an average of 4% of its GDP. 

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What factors contribute to the US' military spending?

The US allocates resources to its military to prevent strategic threats against its territory, ensure the safety of its citizens, support global security by protecting its allies, and contribute to economic stability.

In the 2024 Defense Budget proposal, the DoD outlines four key military priorities based on the 2022 National Defense Strategy (NDS):

  • Defending the homeland, with a specific focus on addressing the complex threats posed by China.
  • Deterring strategic attacks against the United States, its allies, and partners, emphasizing the importance of security in the Indo-Pacific region to counter China and in Europe against Russia.
  • Deterring aggression and being prepared to prevail in conflict when necessary, ensuring readiness for a range of military engagements.
  • Building a resilient joint force strategy that enhances the defense ecosystem and maintains and extends the technological and operational advantage of the US military.

The NDS highlights China as the United States' foremost competitor, stressing the importance of addressing China's influence in the Indo-Pacific region and its efforts to alter the international order. Additionally, the strategy acknowledges the necessity of a robust military to counter threats from Russia, Iran, North Korea, and violent extremist groups. This approach aims "to protect the security of the American people; expand economic prosperity and opportunity; and realize and defend the values at the heart of the American way of life.

The NDS also identifies our main military challenges: the rise of authoritarian powers, technological advancements like artificial intelligence, global economic inequality, and climate change.

Where does this data come from?

Data on DoD spending comes from the 2024 Defense Budget Overview. Additional materials, including budget documents specific to each branch of the Armed Forces and specific defense initiatives, come from the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and DoD press releases.

Additional data on national defense spending in previous years comes from a USAFacts custom aggregation of data from the Office of Management and Budget, the Census, and Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Data comparing US military expenditures to other countries comes from the 2021 World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers report, published by the State Department. This survey offers insights into each country's military expenditure, armed forces size, GDP, population, labor force, and other key metrics from 2009 to 2019.

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2024 Defense Budget Overview
Last updated
March 2023
Defense Budget Materials - FY2024
Press Releases
Last updated
March 11, 2024
World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers, 2021
Defense & Military
Last updated
January 27, 2023
USAFacts Financial Analysis Methodology