Rising war costs and a stubborn budget deficit have forced the Pentagon to propose billions of dollars in cuts to advanced weapons systems, as the military refocuses spending from its vision of a transformed fighting force to the more down-to-earth needs of its ground troops.
An internal defense budget document for fiscal 2006 shows a vivid shift of emphasis from procuring the weapons of the future to fighting the wars of the present, numerous defense analysts said yesterday. The Air Force and the Navy -- once favored by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld -- would have to sacrifice some of their high-tech weapons development for the humble needs of the Army, such as tank treads and armor.
The internal budget document was approved by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz.
"The Air Force and the Navy are paying the bills to fix the Army's shortfall in resources," said Loren B. Thompson, defense industry analyst with the Lexington Institute.
The internal budget document, approved by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz and leaked to reporters over the weekend, shows deep cuts to weapons programs once seen as the future of the military, including an Air Force advanced fighter plane, a stealthy Navy destroyer, a fleet of modernized transport aircraft and the next generation of nuclear submarines. Even President Bush's prized missile defense program would be trimmed by $5 billion. In all, cuts over six years would total $55 billion, mostly from the Navy and the Air Force.
In contrast, Army ground forces, which Rumsfeld had once hoped to reduce and de-emphasize, would receive an additional $25 billion through 2011. Those funds would be dedicated to an ongoing Army initiative to break down its large divisions into smaller, "modular" brigades that would be more mobile and flexible.
With the cutbacks and additions, the Pentagon would trim $30 billion over the next six years from its original $89 billion defense buildup, according to the budget document, which was first reported in InsideDefense.com. The total military budget is still likely to exceed the 2005 level. At the same time, the White House is preparing an emergency spending bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that could total between $80 billion and $100 billion, congressional defense aides say.
White House officials last year informed all federal agencies and departments, including the Defense Department, that they would have to contribute to the president's effort to cut the budget deficit in half, as Bush has pledged, according to Chad Kolton, a spokesman for the White House budget office. At the same time, emergency requests for the war in Iraq have steadily escalated in each of the past three years.
"No one had anticipated that the cost of Iraq would continue to grow like [this]," said Dov S. Zakheim, an original member of Rumsfeld's team who retired as Pentagon comptroller last year. Now, he said, "clearly they are concerned about the deficit on one hand and Iraq on the other."
"They've suddenly realized the war in Iraq and the deficit require them to make tough choices on the defense budget," said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a member of the Armed Services Committee.
The internal document presents the changes the Defense Department would like to see in its long-term budget, recommendations that will now be used to draft the actual defense request for 2006 through 2010. Kolton cautioned that final decisions on the president's 2006 budget request are still about two weeks away.
Some of the cuts would fall on programs long questioned by Rumsfeld. The F/A-22 Raptor fighter jet, which critics have labeled a Cold War relic, is slated for a $10.4 billion cut through 2011. The cut would cost the Air Force 96 advanced fighters.
The Air Force originally proposed scaling back the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter instead but was overruled by Pentagon insiders close to Rumsfeld, Thompson said. "The administration is using the budget pressures as a pretext to force its priorities on the military services," he said.
Submarines, also slated for cuts, have never been Rumsfeld favorites. Under the plan, the Navy would lose three advanced Virginia-class nuclear submarines, saving $5.3 billion.
But other programs on the chopping block have been defended by the military services as vital to Rumsfeld's vision of a lighter, more agile military. The Marine Corps would lose nearly $1.2 billion for its V-22 Osprey vertical-lift aircraft.