Washington reaction ranged from dread to frustration in recent days as the reality sank in that Congress is passing another continuing resolution to fund the Defense Department.
The military, amid widespread budget uncertainty, is grappling with a spike in non-combat military deaths from naval and aviation mishaps, 42 this year by the House Armed Service's count, and President Trump and defense hawks on Capitol Hill are asking for big hikes to shore up what they see as underfunded and overburdened forces.
Instead, the Defense Department's annual budget was delayed by another CR on Friday that locked in the department's current $592 billion level, which breaks down to about $516 billion in base funding and $76 billion for overseas war operations, until December. Lawmakers are faced with either striking an annual spending deal for fiscal 2018 or punting yet again.
"Plan B is, if you are going to have this dreaded thing, how can you make it less bad?" said House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas. "There may well be a series of areas where we can try to ameliorate the detrimental effects of a CR."
Talks were underway on the Hill for a potential backup plan that could still boost defense spending while lawmakers continue to toil on the 2018 budget.
Thornberry said more money could be added for missile defense, including more interceptors and research, as North Korea charges ahead on its program to develop a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach U.S. cities.
Congress also blocked planned troop drawdowns last year, and more funding for military personnel may be immediately needed, he said.
"CRs are inherently inefficient. They say you spend the money on the same stuff you did last year regardless of what your needs are," he said. "If you don't need to spend money on something, you've got to spend money on it anyway. If you need to spend money on something new, there are no new starts and so you can't spend money on that."
Sen. John McCain, while saying he supports funding relief efforts after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, said he can't in "good conscience" support the funding if it means another CR.
"I have come to this floor many times to talk about the harmful effects of continuing resolutions on our military," the Arizona Republican said last week. "Year after year, we have lurched from one short-term fix to another without doing the hard work of governing and budgeting. And year after year, I have reminded my colleagues that CRs are not only no way to fund the government, they inflict great harm upon those Americans we are constitutionally obliged to provide for — our men and women in uniform."
The DoD, after numerous warnings to Congress this year about budget instability, has also been updating its plans for a stop-gap budget when the 2018 fiscal year begins in October.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Congress in June that years of budget instability partly due to CRs has degraded the forces and put the lives of troops at risk.
In the two months after Mattis' warnings, the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald destroyers both collided with merchant ships in the Pacific in similar and apparently avoidable incidents that killed 17 sailors. Both incidents, which followed two other Navy mishaps in the region this year, are under investigation and triggered a House Armed Services hearing on Capitol Hill last week.
"All of these things can be taken as unique circumstances and one-offs, or you can take it and say, no, we have a systemic issue," Jerry Hendrix, senior fellow and the director of the defense strategies and assessments program, Center for a New American Security.
The Senate Armed Services Committee, which has warned billions of dollars could be lost if lawmakers punt on the defense budget, has requested Mattis provide a report on the potential effects of three-month and six-month CRs.
DoD spokesman Chris Sherwood said the department would "not comment on sensitive correspondence" with Congress.
A stop-gap budget is likely to tie Pentagon's hands financially and create an accounting headache, said Katherine Blakeley, research fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
The Pentagon's proposed budget for 2018 focuses on bolstering the readiness of existing forces and not buying new types of weapons or starting programs, so-called "new starts" that are typically barred under a stop-gap budget, Blakeley said.
"You're not kicking off any major new acquisition programs, but you still have literally tens of billions of misalignments between various procurement programs in your military personnel accounts, and for every one of those you have to apply to Congress for reprogramming," she said.
The programming mismatches will burden the DoD comptroller with writing "dozens and dozens" of reprogramming requests and also create a ripple effect that frustrates the defense industry, Blakeley said.
"If you were expecting that your production rate would be X and instead it's like X minus 20 percent, that has an impact," Blakeley said.
Far from being unexpected, the stop-gap budgets have become a fixture of the fall budgeting season in recent years and perennial headache for the defense industry.
"It's just for whatever reason Congress can't seem to get its act together and get the budget done on time," said Dan Stohr, spokesman for the Aerospace Industries Association, a trade group that represents defense contractors. "We're hearing the same things from industry that we hear every year this goes on, which is that it's a problem."
The CR is "particularly disappointing" for the defense industry because it is hoping for a potential hike in defense spending after seeing Trump's proposed $639 billion defense budget, along with budget proposals on the Hill as high as $700 billion, Stohr said.
"Even if it's a short-term [CR] into December, that's three months of delays," he said. "You can't bid on new contracts, you can't get the money flowing on new contracts, and you can't adjust your investment in spending to appropriately plan for the future."