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DoD's $708.2B budget comes with veto threat

Feb. 2, 2010 - 10:48AM   |  
By WILLIAM MATTHEWS   |   Comments
Pentagon chief Robert Gates, left, discusses the 2011 defense budget Feb. 1 at the Pentagon. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen is alongside Gates. (JEWEL SAMAD / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE)

The Pentagon's $708.2 billion spending plan for 2011 is the largest budget ever, but it's not big enough to keep buying C-17 cargo planes or a second engine for Joint Strike Fighters.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that he will "strongly recommend" that President Obama veto the 2011 bill if Congress adds money to the budget to keep those programs alive.

As he unveiled the new defense budget Feb. 1, Gates also announced a shakeup of the troubled Joint Strike Fighter program. He fired the program manager, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. David Heinz, and said a three-star officer will replace him. Heinz is a two-star.

Gates said he took the step because the JSF, the Pentagon's most costly program, is troubled. "Progress and performance of the F-35 is not what it should be."

In addition to sacking Heinz, Gates said he would withhold $614 million in "award fees" from JSF builder Lockheed Martin. He said the company agreed to the withholding.

The program has increased in cost by about $100 billion since 2002, and now is expected to cost a total of about $300 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service. And the program has been plagued by delays.

Gates said his decisions on the JSF program are an attempt to hold people accountable.

The 2011 budget calls for spending almost $11 billion to buy 43 Joint Strike Fighters next year.

In the defense budget, Gates asks Congress for a $548.9 billion "base" budget and for $159.3 billion to keep fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2011. He also asks for $33 billion to cover the 2010 costs of sending more troops to Afghanistan.

The base budget request is $18.2 billion more than the $530.8 billion Congress approved spending this year. The war funding request is $3.3 billion less than this year's war fund of $129.6 billion and the additional $33 billion being sought for this year.

Overall, the budget request represents a 3.4 percent increase over this year's budget, but Gates said that after adjusting for inflation, the increase is about 1.8 percent.

Congress reacts

The increase did not please some Democrats in Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said that defense spending should be frozen, just as Obama has proposed to freeze spending on many domestic programs.

However, Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he was "grateful that even as we face economic challenges, defending America continues to be a priority for the Obama administration."

Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., the senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee, complained that the budget proposes spending too little on the Aegis portion of missile defense, and that research and development funding is inadequate.

The budget calls for spending $9.9 billion on missile defense, up from about $9.3 billion this year.

Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., blasted the decision to again try to end C-17 production. He called the decision "mixed-up spending priorities" that will affect "thousands of Missouri workers whose jobs depend" on the C-17.

Instead of buying more C-17s, the Pentagon wants to continue "to pour money down the Joint Strike Fighter rat hole - a boondoggle that continues to be over budget and behind schedule," Bond said. Missouri is also home to the assembly line of the F/A-18 Super Hornet, a Navy fighter that Boeing is pitching as a partial alternative to the JSF.

Spending on research and development takes a hit in the proposed budget. Gates would decrease it from $80 billion this year to $76 billion in 2011.

The procurement spending, meanwhile, increases from $105 billion this year to $113 billion in 2011.

Gates said his budget includes $2.2 billion to increase the number of armed unmanned aerial vehicle combat air patrols from 37 to 65 by 2013. UAVs have proven to be "critical enablers" for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in the Afghan war, Gates said.

The Air Force will be buying Predator and Reaper UAVs, Gates said. The more heavily armed Reaper "has capabilities that the Predator does not," he said. "We're buying as many Reapers as we can."

The budget includes $9.6 billion for buying helicopters, part of an effort to better prepare the U.S. military to deal with a broad range of threats, Gates said. Budget documents list CH-47s, UH-60s, light utility helicopters, H-1s and V-22s among the rotary-wing aircraft programs to receive funding.

And Gates said the Army would be adding two more aviation brigades.

Gates said he wants to spend $25 billion on shipbuilding. That includes $15.7 billion for nine Navy ships, and $9.4 for ship research and development. The Army would get one ship, a joint high speed vessel.

In an hour-long budget briefing, Gates stress that he is continuing efforts to reform the Pentagon. "The fiscal 2011 budget request builds on the reforms begun in last year's defense budget," he said.

Although the proposed budget kills no high-profile programs, as its predecessor did, it would produce some casualties:

CG(X) next-generation Navy cruiser.

EP(X) Navy intelligence aircraft.

Air Force's third-generation infrared surveillance satellite.

Net-enabled command capability.

Defense integrated military human resources system.

Gates said the programs are being canceled because they are not needed or they suffer from poor performance.

Gates acknowledged that he may have a hard time killing the C-17 and the alternate JSF engine. He tried and failed to kill both in this year's budget. "I'm fully aware" of Congress' desire to keep the two programs alive, he said.

But the Air Force "already has more of these aircraft than it needs," he said of the C-17, and the benefits of an alternate JSF engine "are more than offset" by the engine's cost and complexity.

Last year Gates warned that he would recommend a presidential veto of the military funding bill if it contained money for the alternate engine and if the money would take funds from the already troubled JSF.

Lawmakers allocated $560 million for the alternate engine, but did not take money from the JSF program to pay for it. They added $2.5 billion to buy 10 more C-17s.

Gates warned that he will be tougher this year. "It's important to take a final stand," he said.

But he's hardly holding the line on spending.

The "base" defense budget has increased by 40 percent since 2001, said Travis Sharp, a defense budget analyst at the Center for a New American Security. When war costs are added, defense spending has increased by 70 percent, he said.

Compared to previous peaks in defense spending, 2011 breaks records. It is 13 percent higher than spending during the Korean War, 33 percent higher than the Vietnam War peak, 23 percent higher than the Reagan-era defense buildup and 64 percent higher than the Cold War average, Sharp said.

In terms of gross domestic product, the base 2011 spending plan is 3.5 percent of GDP, and with war costs added, it is 4.6 percent of GDP, he said.

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