The Navy would lose two of its DD(X) destroyers, once billed by the Navy as its "pathway to transformation," saving $2.5 billion.
A restructured missile defense program, once the top defense priority of the administration, would be cut by $5 billion. And the Navy would lose 63 next-generation C-130 transport planes, at a savings of $4.9 billion.
The internal budget document was approved by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz.
Some of cuts appear to be a prudent acceptance of reality, said Robert Work, a senior defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. The Navy's fleet of surface ships and submarines is unchallenged, he said. Some defense experts have raised alarm bells about China's intention to ramp up its submarine fleet, but for now, China's four nuclear submarines and 53 conventional subs -- many of them decrepit -- are no match for the Navy's 58 nuclear submarines, he said.
Michael E. O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the proposed cuts reflect a more seasoned Pentagon leadership that is ready to tackle the political difficulty of canceling or reducing expensive, prized weapons programs.
"The Bush administration has ingratiated itself with parts of the defense community" and is publicly considered strong on defense, he said. "That makes it easier for [Bush] to argue that we have to do some things differently. They have created the sort of legitimacy necessary to make these arguments and have people take them seriously."
But other defense experts say the budget request appears to lack any coherent vision. An extensive defense buildup has pushed military spending from $291 billion in 2001 to $437 billion in 2004, but it has yet to fundamentally replace the aging weaponry of the military services, said Andrew F. Krepinevich, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments' executive director. Cutting future weapons purchases now would lock in what he called "a hollow buildup."
"If this is transformation, it's reactive transformation," he said. "What are these cuts saying beyond 'We've got a budget problem' ?"
Without doubt, Rumsfeld will face political challenges to his request. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) has singled out a proposal to retire one of the Navy's aircraft carriers.
Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), whose district includes giant shipmaker Bath Iron Works, went further. "It's truly mystifying and disturbing," she said. "What is their vision of the future that would suggest that America could live with a much-reduced Navy? We couldn't even anticipate where we are today . . . let alone looking 10 or 20 years down the road."
But, ultimately, Congress may have little choice but to go along, said Gordon Adams, a George Washington University defense expert who helped craft defense budgets for the Clinton White House. The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had produced a surge in spending for war and weapons, obscuring an earlier fight between Rumsfeld and the uniformed services over funding priorities.
But the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have dragged on far longer -- and proved far more expensive -- than anticipated. Likewise, the burgeoning budget deficit -- which totaled a record $413 billion in 2004 -- has put pressure on the entire federal government.
Now, Adams said, Rumsfeld will no longer be able to "have his budgetary cake and eat it, too."