Pentagon Plan Seeks Annual Budget Boost Of $20 Billion
Goal Is $500 Billion By End of the Decade
By Vernon Loeb
Washington Post - Jan 31, 2003; Page A04
The Pentagon has prepared a $399.1 billion defense budget for fiscal 2004 as part of a spending plan that grows by about $20 billion annually over the next five years and surpasses half a trillion dollars by the end of the decade, according to Defense Department documents.
The plan, which could change slightly between now and President Bush's formal budget submission Monday, calls for a $16.9 billion increase in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, a 4.4 percent increase over the Pentagon's current $382.2 billion budget.
"We've come full circle," said Steven M. Kosiak, director of budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, a Washington think tank. "We're not only not cutting defense anymore, but we've come to the point where we're spending more money than we spent during the Cold War. Whether this is sustainable over the next six years is questionable."
In budget briefings today, aides to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will portray the budget as a blueprint for "transforming" the U.S. military for the information age while maintaining the global war on terrorism and continuing to improve pay and housing for service members, according to a 34-page briefing.
The briefing includes a chart showing how defense spending as a percentage of the nation's gross domestic product has declined from 8 percent in 1960 to 3.4 percent in the fiscal 2004 budget. While the administration is barring release of specifics on the budget until it is formally submitted Monday, The Washington Post independently obtained the briefing.
"What will determine the political viability of this budget is the recovery of the economy," said Loren B. Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, a think tank in Arlington with ties to the Pentagon and leading defense contractors. "It will be difficult to reconcile the Pentagon's fairly ambitious spending plan, [the administration's proposed] tax cuts and prescription drug benefits if the economy doesn't grow."
Thompson credited Rumsfeld with funding an ambitious transformation agenda without sacrificing modernization programs needed to keep Cold War-era aircraft, ships and tanks functioning until next-generation technologies mature in the coming decades.
"Money is so scarce that the military thought a choice would have to be made between near-term modernization and long-term transformation," Thompson said. "But this plan does both. The glide path for defense spending is a $20 billion increase every year through the end of the decade. If there's a willingness to spend that kind of money, it's possible to meet our current commitments while transforming the force."
But defense industry groups and conservative defense analysts say the administration's increases are not nearly large enough. Cynthia Brown, president of the American Shipbuilding Association, credited the Pentagon with proposing $12.1 billion to build seven ships in fiscal 2004, up from five in the current year. But even with seven more ships, she said, the Navy -- which had 590 ships during the 1991 Persian Gulf War -- will soon drop below its current fleet level of 301.
The budget briefing said the fleet will decrease over the next three years to 291 ships, because of the accelerated retirements of vessels, before rebounding to 305 ships at the end of the decade.
John W. Douglass, president and chief executive officer of the Aerospace Industries Association, expressed satisfaction with proposed investments in the budget that would directly benefit dozens of aerospace contractors, including $19.6 billion for seven aircraft programs, $9.1 billion for missile defense, $1.5 billion for advanced communications satellites and space-based radar, and $1.4 billion for unmanned aerial vehicles.
"The strategy of trying to modernize the force through transformation is a strategy the aerospace industry supports," he said.
A group of conservative defense analysts, meanwhile, has sent the president a letter urging him to consider an additional increase on defense, from $70 billion to $100 billion over the next several years. "Today's military," the analysts said, "is simply too small for the missions it must perform."
From the perspective of the military services, the Air Force is the biggest winner, with its budget proposed to climb from $108 billion to $113.7 billion, an increase of about 5.3 percent. The Navy/Marine Corps budget, by contrast, would increase from $111.1 billion to $114.6 billion, about 3.1 percent, and the Army's budget would grow from $90.7 billion to $93.7 billion, about 3.3 percent. Another big winner is the Special Operations Command; its budget would increase from $3 billion to $4.52 billion, which is more than 47 percent.