How Trump's defense spending would stack up to every president since Eisenhower

ZAGAN, Poland -- M1A2 Abrams tanks belonging to 4th Infantry Division that have been loaded onto a flatcar railway Jan. 25, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Corinna Baltos)

Washington (CNN)When President Donald Trump stood before a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, he declared he would soon send them "a budget that rebuilds the military" and "calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history."

The US armed forces, he said, would "be given the resources its brave warriors so richly deserve."
Trump's proposal, generally outlined the day before, is to boost defense spending by $54 billion for fiscal year 2018, which begins October 1. That would take defense spending up to $603 billion, a 10% increase over current levels.
That certainly sounds like a lot of money, although Republicans like Sen. John McCain of Arizona say it's not nearly enough.
    How does it actually compare to previous military spending under other presidents?
    The answer: Trump's proposed defense budget would indeed be on par with some of the highest peaks of spending since the Korean War.
    It would compare to the highest years under Ronald Reagan's military spending in the late 1980s, according to data from the Department of Defense. It would even potentially rival 1968 when Lyndon Johnson presided over the height of the Vietnam War.
    But then again, in the post-9/11 world, sky-high military spending has been more the exception than the rule.
    George W. Bush holds the title for annual defense spending over the last half-century, when adjusted for inflation, and even Barack Obama -- who generally ratcheted it down each year in adjusted dollars -- spent what Trump is proposing as recently as 2015.
    CNN reviewed data from 60 years' worth of defense outlays -- how much the government actually spent annually -- between fiscal years 1954 and 2015, The figures were detailed in a Defense Department report published last year.
    By adjusting for inflation, apples-to-apples comparisons can be made over time. (In this case, the DOD benchmark year was 2009.)
    The ebb and flow over the years most closely tracks to when the US was fighting major wars around the world. It also shows how the end of the Cold War gave way to an era of military reductions in the 1990s, followed by the significant post-9/11 buildup when America was back on a war footing.

    Defense spending through the years

    After the Korean War hostilities ceased in 1953, inflation-adjusted defense spending began to go down under President Dwight Eisenhower's administration. The top US general during World War II, Eisenhower oversaw a reduction from wartime and even warned of a "military-industrial" complex as he prepared to leave the White House. Spending continued to diminish under President John F. Kennedy. In fiscal year 1954 spending levels were near $500 billion -- but by 1963, they had dropped to $390 billion.
    A helicopter atop the American Embassy in Saigon, 1975
    The Vietnam War once again churned up enormous defense spending, topping out in fiscal year 1968, when the equivalent of $523 billion was spent on defense.
    By the end of the war and the fall of Saigon in 1975, immortalized in pictures of desperate Vietnamese trying to board helicopters at the U.S. Embassy, the actual inflation-adjusted defense spending had gone down, to less than $350 billion.
    It wouldn't top the equivalent of $400 billion again until Reagan's first budget for fiscal year 1982, when the equivalent of $413 billion was spent on defense. Under Reagan's policy of building up forces to challenge the Soviet Union, military spending soared to its highest adjusted levels since World War II. By the late 1980s, it topped the equivalent $530 billion per year.
    But all that began to change in fall 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union -- and the end of the Cold War.
    That gave way to a largely peaceful 1990s during which George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton presided over reductions in military spending. By the end of the Clinton administration, spending hovered around $400 billion.

    The more things change...

    Then came the 9/11 attacks. And the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention other military engagements around the world, that followed. By the time Bush left office, defense spending had reached the equivalent of nearly $700 billion.
    During the Obama years, it gradually reversed course, though remained quite high by historical standards.
    By 2015, spending had dropped to around $530 billion. Lower for sure, but nearly the identical figure spent in 2004 a decade earlier during the early days of the Iraq War. And once again, roughly the same as during Reagan's buildup, or the height of Vietnam.
    Looking ahead to Trump's proposal for the coming budget year, let's take his $603 billion and adjust it for inflation with a 2009 baseline like the rest.
    It becomes a familiar number: about $530 billion.