- The Washington Times - Monday, February 13, 2012

The Pentagon is not just cutting manpower to reach deficit-reduction targets: Its 2013 budget, released Monday, shows the military will spend less to replace old weapons after two grueling wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The procurement line in the $525 billion plan calls for $108 billion next year to buy big and small weapon systems such as guns, ships and jet fighters - down nearly 30 percent from 2011.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced budget details last month, with a focus on how the Army and Marine Corps will shed 90,000 troops to save money.

The detailed budget shows the services will have less buying power too, as the Air Force copes with an aging fleet of jet fighters and attack planes whose average age of 22 years would put them near retirement.

The Navy has $13.5 billion to buy new ships, down from $15 billion two years ago. Analysts doubt the 285-ship naval service can reach its goal of 313 ships in the next five years.

Army procurement drops to $21 billion, from $34 billion in 2011 and $24 billion this year.

The squeeze is part of the Pentagon blueprint to slash $487 billion in projected spending over the next 10 years to comply with the Budget Control Act. The $525 billion base budget is about $5 billion lower than this year’s, setting the stage for a defense downturn not seen since the post-Soviet 1990s.

With the Iraq war over, spending on overseas operations drops from $115 billion to $88.5 billion next year.

It is the first Pentagon budget based on President Obama’s new war strategy, which downplays structuring an active force for one or more large, protracted land wars.

The new focus shifts from Europe toward emerging power China and the Western Pacific. The Middle East - particularly the Persian Gulf, where Iran remains an adversary - remains a high priority.

“The department’s strategy developed in this budget creates a smaller, lighter, more agile, flexible joint force to conduct a full range of military activities that are necessary to defend U.S. national interests,” said Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale.

In general, the Pentagon is shrinking procurement by terminating a series of relatively small systems, while slowing big programs, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Navy’s next ballistic missile submarine.

Over five years, the Navy’s total planned buy of new ships drops from 57 to 41. It also is retiring seven cruisers and two amphibious docking ships.

A defense source said that for the first time in years, the Navy is not funding a single large amphibious ship in its five-year shipbuilding plans.

The 2013 budget funds five large ships - two destroyers, one carrier and two Virginia-class submarines - and five small ships - four littoral combat ships (LCS) and one high-speed vessel.

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