The next administration will inherit a military that's preparing to ramp up production on several big-ticket items like the F-35, the bomber and the Ohio-class replacement submarines, but will still be constrained by budget caps that stretch through fiscal 2021 and leave no obvious way to pay for it all.

For this reason, Todd Harrison, the director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says budget caps are the biggest challenge for the next president, regardless of whether that's Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

"That's something they're going to be handing over to the next team. So the next administration, Clinton or Trump, they're going to have to figure out this problem," Harrison told reporters at a CSIS briefing.

The next president has three options for reconciling mounting acquisition programs with a budget that will snap back to the budget caps absent a deal in fiscal 2018, Harrison said. He or she can increase the budget top line to cover all the additional acquisition costs that are expected to peak in the early 2020s, which could trigger a fight with Congress; offset the increase in acquisition with cuts to other parts of defense; or delay the programs and push them outside of the five-year budget window so the bills are not all due at the same time.

"That's a tough choice, but something the next team will have to deal with," he said.

The next commander-in-chief will most likely want to exceed the budget caps, Harrison said. That will renew a fight that's been ongoing for the past five years in which both Democrats and Republicans want to increase defense spending, but Democrats will only agree to do so if there's a comparable boost in money for domestic programs.

The Budget Control Act was signed into law on Aug. 2, 2011, five years ago on Tuesday, and covers fiscal 2012 to fiscal 2021. At the time, officials at the Pentagon predicted disastrous consequences from the funding cuts, including a Navy fleet of less than 230 ships, eliminating of the F-35 program, and furloughs for defense civilians lasting a month or more.

But today, the Navy still has 271 ships, the F-35A is declaring initial operating capability on Tuesday, and civilians in the Defense Department workforce faced just six days of unpaid work in 2013, Harrison said.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta predicted that the U.S. would have the smallest ground force since 1940, which came in 1948 with 639,000 forces, and that prediction did come true. The U.S. is on track to reach at 632,000 ground force in a few years.

But Harrison said part of the reason that other predictions of doom and gloom didn't happen is because several budget deals have prevented a cut down to the level set by the Budget Control Act. Defense has also used the overseas contingency operations account, a war fund that critics call a slush fund, to supplement the base budget.

"This explains why we haven't seen dire consequences that were actually predicted," he said.

Still, the military continues to tell lawmakers that its readiness is suffering as maintenance and training accounts take a hit. But Harrison said it's become somewhat a case of the "boy who cried wolf," since defense experts previous predicted disaster yet the sky has not fallen.

"When you do have that time that you need to warn people about dire consequences, they're going to be less inclined to believe you," he said.