Congress Backs Pentagon Budget Heavy on Future Weapons
Buildup Pricier Than That in '80s
By Dan Morgan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 11, 2004; Page A23
As Congress moves ahead with a huge new defense bill, lawmakers are making only modest changes in the Pentagon's plans to spend well over $1 trillion in the next decade on an arsenal of futuristic planes, ships and weapons with little direct connection to the Iraq war or the global war on terrorism.
House and Senate versions of the 2005 defense authorization measure contain a record $68 billion for research and development -- 20 percent above the peak levels of President Ronald Reagan's historic defense buildup. Tens of billions more out of a proposed $76 billion hardware account will go for big-ticket weapons systems to combat some as-yet-unknown adversary comparable to the former Soviet Union.
On the Pentagon's wish list are such revolutionary weapons as a fighter plane that can land on an aircraft carrier or descend vertically to the ground; a radar-evading destroyer that can wallow low in the waves like a submarine while aiming precise rounds at enemy targets 200 miles inland; and a compact "isomer" weapon that could tap the metallic chemical element hafnium to release 10,000 times as much energy per gram as TNT.
So far this year, the debate in Congress over the defense bill has largely skirted the budgetary or strategic implications of this buildup, largely because Republican and Democratic politicians are unwilling to appear weak on defense after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"In the public mind there is clearly a present danger, so we can't trim back the defense budget in any manner even though counterterrorism spending only accounts for a small part of it," said Carl Conetta, co-director of the Project on Defense Alternatives.
But as Congress comes under new pressures to fund the war in Iraq, provide better physical protection for troops in the field, help financially strapped military families and defend U.S. shores, some lawmakers in both parties say Congress and the Pentagon must begin to choose among competing defense priorities.
"We are in a massive train wreck financially," Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) recently told members of the House Armed Services subcommittee on tactical air and land forces, which he chairs. "The time has come to be tough about the way we are spending money on programs that we cannot see the ability to fund" in later years.
War costs and modernization are expected to drive defense spending to nearly $500 billion in 2005, above the inflation-adjusted Cold War average, and $50 billion above 2004. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the long-term price tag for all the planes, ships and weapons the military services want will be at least $770 billion above what the Bush administration's long-term defense plan calls for.
In a major speech last week, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, called for cutting back funding for a national missile defense system -- a priority of the Bush administration -- to pay for increasing the size of the active-duty Army.
Other lawmakers are concerned that a defense budget that gives the Pentagon the resources to challenge adversaries in the air, sea and on land throughout the world for the next half-century will inevitably further skew the nation's foreign policy toward military intervention.
The current defense budget, said Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), "is consistent with the Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz view of the world that we will essentially abandon 'soft' power -- diplomacy and the use of international institutions -- and will concentrate on 'hard' power -- military strength that we exercise alone."
He was characterizing the strategic defense policies of Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz.
The defense budget before Congress looks far different from the one Rumsfeld envisioned when he first came to office. At that time, he was pushing the armed forces toward a "transformation" creating lighter, faster, electronically networked and smaller forces. That approach already has resulted in plans for the Army's Future Combat Systems and the Navy's proposed Littoral Combat Ship.
Rumsfeld canceled the Army's heavy Crusader artillery system and made clear he was skeptical of other costly advanced weapons systems championed by the military chiefs and defense contractors.
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