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Defense Spending

Troops' Pay Raise, Retooling Efforts Come With Price

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 8, 2005; Page A07

The Bush administration's new five-year defense spending plan provides a 3.1 percent pay increase for military personnel in 2006 and billions more in later years for building more powerful Army brigades, reflecting dual priorities of retaining troops and retooling the military to fight today's wars.

To achieve that, however, Pentagon budget officials had to slash $55 billion in projected spending over the five years for fighter jets, destroyers, submarines and other items, while adding $25 billion to transform Army ground units.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wants to transform the force to make it more flexible to confront terrorism.

_____Live Discussion_____
Transcript: Brookings Economist William Gale discusses the 2006 budget.
Transcript: Post's Jonathan Weisman

_____More Coverage_____
President Sends '06 Budget to Congress (The Washington Post, Feb 8, 2005)
Bush Calls for Familiar Trims (The Washington Post, Feb 8, 2005)
Congress Unlikely to Embrace Bush Wish List (The Washington Post, Feb 8, 2005)
Plan Avoids Rollbacks That Some Feared (The Washington Post, Feb 8, 2005)
For Budget Director, No Red Ink and the Skies Are Not Cloudy All Day (The Washington Post, Feb 8, 2005)

This year's budget may provide just a taste of tougher trade-offs to come, said budget analysts, as pressure to lower the federal budget deficit imposes hard choices between spending to sustain the force for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the long-range goal of modernizing the U.S. military. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wants to transform the force to make it more flexible and effective in confronting terrorism, which requires investment in skilled personnel as well as new technologies.

Signaling spending fights to come, Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill criticized the budget yesterday for not raising pay enough or funding a permanent increase in troop numbers. And defense industry advocates complain that weapons cuts could erode the industrial base.

The difficulties in trying to finance rising manpower costs as well as weapons systems will be considerable, said Steven M. Kosiak, director of budget studies for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Military "personnel are significantly more costly than three to five years ago," he said. "So if you have a relatively flat [overall budget] top line and don't cut the size of the military, it means less and less of the budget is available for acquisitions."

In real terms, the $419.3 billion budget for fiscal 2006 represents a 4.8 percent increase over 2005 and a hefty 41 percent gain since 2001. But in a sign of rising concern over deficits, the budget is about $3 billion smaller than projected in last year's plan. It does not include an additional $75 billion for the Defense Department to cover military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan -- part of an estimated $80 billion emergency supplemental appropriation that lawmakers expect the administration to request next week.

The budget allocates $108.9 billion for military personnel, including recruiting and retention bonuses that military officials say are vital to stemming an exodus of experienced troops, many weary from the longest war-zone rotations since the Vietnam War.

For example, the funding will include generous reenlistment bonuses of as much as $150,000 for Special Operations forces that are increasingly lured by private-sector jobs. The budget envisions growing the elite force, which includes troops skilled in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, by 1,200 military and 200 civilian personnel.

This year's $78 billion in funding for weapons systems -- a 2 percent decline in real terms -- also places priority on better equipping and configuring the military for the war on terrorism. The budget includes approximately $25 billion for the Army's effort to create 10 new brigades, increasing the total from 33 to 43. It also provides $3.4 billion for the Army's Future Combat System, which revolves around a new, 20-ton vehicle conceived to be as lethal as a tank.

To pay for manpower incentives and programs to transform the force, the Pentagon had to cut about $55 billion from its five-year budget plan, including mainly the procurement of weapons systems deemed less essential for today's conflicts. Some of the major weapons systems that saw cutbacks include the F/A-22 fighter, DD(X) destroyer, LPD amphibious ship, Virginia-class attack submarine and V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft.

Yesterday, some lawmakers said the budget does not do enough to support the troops. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) criticized the budget for not funding an increase in the death gratuity from $12,000 to $100,000 for survivors of troops killed in war zones, and for not providing a permanent increase in the size of the Army.

The Army has been allowed to increase temporarily by 30,000, up to 512,000. But Rumsfeld made clear at a news conference yesterday that whether the troop increase becomes permanent remains an open question and would be reviewed "in a year or two" in light of whatever efficiencies might be achieved by the current restructuring.

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