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Mr. Romney says he wants to increase that to 15 per year, which, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, would increase the annual budget to $33.5 billion a year, nearly doubling costs over the next 30 years to $1.005 trillion.

The defense spending debate in Washington these days is dominated by talk of the sequesters — the automatic spending cuts set into motion by last year’s debt deal. On Jan. 2, the administration must make $110 billion in cuts, split between defense and domestic spending, with more cuts each year through the end of the decade.

Those cuts come on top of $487 billion in lower defense spending that the Obama administration already has proposed over the next 10 years.

Mr. Obama’s approach aims to “pave the way for more robust defense spending down the road,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

He said it’s a balancing act: Too many defense cuts too quickly could put the nation’s global security posture at “risk in the short term.”

Indeed, the Romney camp pulls no punches in the fight against proposed cuts. “It will be a priority to undo President Obama’s defense cuts in the first term,” said John Noonan, a defense policy adviser for the campaign.

Mr. Noonan, who has served as a House Armed Services Committee staffer under Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican, said current defense spending “is at historic lows if you look at historic trends.”

“If President Obama’s defense cuts continue on their current trajectory, then it goes down to somewhere in the high 2 percent range of GDP.”

Progressives, some of whom have Reagan Republican pasts, tell another story. They say Mr. Obama’s proposals are portrayed inaccurately by the Romney camp and are a result of calls from both major political parties to rein in the post-Iraq War defense budget while tackling the deficit crisis.

“What Obama has done is reduce the projected growth in defense spending. It’s not actually a cut,” said Larry Korb, who was an assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan. “Let’s say you’re making $50,000 a year, and I tell you that in 10 years, your salary will be $100,000, but the economy is in a downturn, so actually I’m only going to give you $80,000 in 10 years.”

“Compared to what Eisenhower did after Korea, or Nixon did after Vietnam, or if you look at Reagan’s second term when we cut defense by 10 percent in four years, the Obama $486 billion is not that big of a cut,” he said. “It’s 8 percent over 10 years.”

The irony, said Mr. Korb, now a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, is that “apart from the first Reagan administration, the Pentagon has historically made out better under Democrats than Republicans in terms of money.”

“And the problem with Romney saying he’s going to increase defense spending,” said Mr. Korb, “is how is he going to do that while also dealing with the deficit?”