Pentagon Adds Initiatives, Retains Old Ones
Tuesday, February 7, 2006
The Pentagon yesterday announced a $439.3 billion budget request that adds billions for new initiatives to fight terrorism and other "irregular" conflicts without cutting major conventional weapons systems -- effectively postponing what defense budget analysts predict will be tough decisions down the road.
The defense budget includes $5.1 billion to increase Special Operations Forces by 4,000 in 2007, with plans to add a total of 14,000 troops at a cost of nearly $28 billion through 2011. The elite troops -- now numbering about 52,000 -- are skilled in combating terrorism and insurgents, and in working with foreign militaries, but they have been stretched thin by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Other new budget initiatives include $1.7 billion for unmanned aerial drones for intelligence gathering and $181 million for increased training in languages such as Arabic for special operations and military intelligence personnel.
To strengthen homeland defense, the budget also requests $1.7 billion to develop new vaccines against biological weapons and to increase the military's ability to locate and "neutralize potential nuclear threats," Pentagon comptroller Tina Jonas said.
Much bigger sums go toward continuing conventional weapons systems, with $15 billion for new helicopters and fighter jets such as the Joint Strike Fighter and Air Force F-22, and $11.2 billion for two new Navy DD(X) destroyers, one Virginia-class submarine and two Littoral Combat Ships aimed at expanding the Navy's ability to operate in coastal areas.
The Army, the branch that won the biggest increase, is allocated $6.6 billion to expand and modernize its brigades to deploy more rapidly, and $3.7 billion for research on the Future Combat System, a network of lighter ground vehicles, aerial drones and sensors.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the Pentagon's budget increase -- 6.9 percent more than Congress enacted for 2006, and 4.8 percent more than requested for 2006 -- is needed because as the military counters new threats, it cannot afford to lose superiority over other military powers.
"We have been successful in deterring the threat from large armies, navies and air forces . . . those threats haven't disappeared," Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon briefing yesterday. "That does require investment. The investment is large." He added that defense spending remains low in historical terms as a percentage of gross domestic product.
As budget pressures mount, defense analysts see a growing problem with the Pentagon's reluctance to cut more traditional weapons systems. They say this could eventually crowd out initiatives to transform the military to meet future threats. "Not only did they not address the funding mismatch, but their plan calls into question whether these [new initiatives] will be doable in coming years," said Steven M. Kosiak, a defense budget expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a think tank.
The defense buildup has seen Pentagon spending on weapons procurement double in current dollars from $42 billion in 1996 to $84 billion in 2007, and that is unlikely to last, analysts say. The cost of research and development has also grown, reaching $73.2 billion in the 2007 budget.
Exacerbating the cost crunch are expanding personnel expenditures such as pay, health benefits and recruiting costs. "People costs for the U.S. military have grown tremendously," up 35 percent in real terms since 1999, Kosiak said.
The 2007 budget reflects some efforts to rein in personnel costs. For example, the military pay raise is only 2.2 percent, and the budget includes a plan to increase the cost sharing for health benefits paid by military retirees younger than 65 from 12 percent to as much as 26 percent, Pentagon comptroller Jonas said. Otherwise, she said, health care benefits would rise from the 2007 budgeted amount of $39 billion to more than $50 billion in 2011.
The Air Force and Navy will cut personnel by several thousand each. And the additional Special Operations Forces will come by shifting manpower within the services, causing no net personnel increase. The Army, however, dropped a plan to cut budgeted Army National Guard positions by 17,000, after an outcry from state officials and Congress. The Army will amend the budget to reflect the switch, said Maj. Gen. Edgar E. Stanton, director of the Army budget, at a separate briefing yesterday.
One way the Pentagon is skirting difficult choices, analysts say, is by including items not related to the wars in the multibillion-dollar supplemental funding requests made each year for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The request for 2006 totals $120 billion with another $50 billion requested so far for 2007.
"The political incentive seems to be there for putting things in the supplemental," Kosiak said. He noted that the supplemental appropriation has been increasing faster than estimates for the cost of the wars, now running at $5.8 billion a month for Iraq and $800 million for Afghanistan.