- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3 (UPI) — President Bush Monday sought $379.9 billion for the Pentagon in 2004, $15.3 billion more than the Defense Department received for 2003.

If approved by Congress, it would be the largest defense budget in roughly a decade.

"It's about $1 billion a day, or $42 million an hour," a senior defense official told reporters in background briefings.

The amount is about 16.6 percent of the federal budget. In 1992, the United States spent 20.7 percent of the federal budget on defense. In 1987, under former President Ronald Reagan, it spent 27.3 percent.

The money would pay for a limited missile defense system designed to protect the United States from a ballistic attack; boost the budget for special operations forces, which will allow them to add roughly 1,800 new people, and fund the construction of seven new Navy ships.

"We got hammered over ship building last year," the defense official said.

Last year, the Pentagon funded construction of five new ships.

The 2004 budget request, delivered to Congress Monday, puts the United States even farther ahead of the rest of the world in military spending. According to estimates from the Center for Defense Information in Washington, the fiscal year 2003 budget was close to five times larger than the Russian military budget, the next largest in the world.

It was more than 20 times larger than the combined spending of the United States' most likely adversaries, including the "axis of evil" Iran, Iraq and North Korea, plus Cuba, Libya, Sudan and Syria. It is more than the combined spending of the next 25 nations.

The defense "top line" will be on a growth path under Bush. According to budget projections, the Pentagon would get an additional $100 billion a year boost by fiscal year 2009, when budget documents show the Pentagon asking for $483.6 billion.

The last budget requested by President Bill Clinton for the Pentagon was less than $290 billion.

The senior defense official warned that the Pentagon was already behind because Congress failed to approve all the requested funding for 2003. Specifically, it declined to fund an undetailed request for $10 billion for "contingencies" — as it was not stated how the money would be spent. Congress also provided $7 billion of $10.1 billion requested for the "war on terrorism," combat air patrols over the United States and a restructuring of nuclear forces.

The military services, therefore, "sometime this spring won't have money to fund some of their activities," the official said.

The Navy will get a Virginia class attack submarine, three DDG-51 destroyers, a large deck amphibious ship and two dry cargo ships, for roughly $12 billion. The total also includes the conversion of nuclear submarines to carry conventional cruise missiles and research and development funding for a new class of destroyer, coastal combat ship and a new cruiser.

There are 301 ships in the Navy, a total that will drop to 291 in fiscal 2006 because of the early retirement of older destroyers to save operating funds. If all the planned ships are built, the Navy will return to 305 ships by 2009.

Navy commanders have long held that the United States cannot maintain its traditional seagoing presence and fight wars with fewer than 300 ships.

The Marine Corps is getting $1.8 billion to purchase 11 MV-22 Ospreys and continue development of the frequently troubled aircraft.

The Air Force will buy 22 F/A-22 Raptors for $5.2 billion, part of a fleet of 276, the replacement for the F-15C and E models. That is roughly 60 fewer — or one "wing" — than it had planned for. Out of control costs and a budget cap of $43 billion imposed by Congress forced the cut.

The Joint Strike Fighter, a new multi-role and multi-service aircraft to replace the F-16, will get $4.4 billion in research and development money. The Air Force will also buy 11 new C-17 airlifters for $3.7 billion and five new C-130J short-range cargo planes.

The Navy will buy 42 F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets for $3.5 billion.

The Air Force and Navy are together spending $1.7 billion on 45,000 precision bombs, including 32,000 Joint Direct Attack Munitions.

The Pentagon is also investing heavily in unmanned vehicles, which can provide reconnaissance and combat capabilities in the air, on land or at sea without putting U.S. lives at risk. It has earmarked $1.4 billion to buy four Global Hawk and 14 Predator air vehicles, to develop two unmanned aerial combat vehicles and a host of other systems.

The Army is getting $1.7 billion to continue development of the Future Combat System, a family of fighting vehicles that will begin to supplant heavy tanks in large measure by 2010. It is also getting $955 million to buy 301 Stryker armored wheeled combat vehicles, and $1.1 billion to continue development of the Comanche, a stealthy reconnaissance and light-attack mission helicopter.

With an eye on information security — a growing worry as the Pentagon depends more and more on computers to plan for and prosecute wars, as well as handling business and day-to-day communications — the Defense Department wants $416 million to improve protection on DOD computer networks.

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