President Bush presented Congress yesterday with his first wartime defense budget, making a $379 billion down payment on a struggle against terrorism that he says will take years to win.
The fiscal 2003 budget, which takes effect next Oct. 1, asks for $27 billion in anti-terrorism programs. In an indication that American troops will be fighting terrorists on foreign soil next year, the plan includes a $10 billion war reserve so the Pentagon will not have to ask Congress for emergency funds.
The plan gives a stamp of approval to two major tactical aircraft programs, the F-22 stealth fighter, and the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Both seemed in budgetary danger just a year ago. The plan also incorporates some “lessons learned” from Afghanistan by earmarking $1 billion a $300 million increase for unmanned spy/attack aircraft and more money to replenish stocks of precision-guided munitions.
“If there’s one thing that has become clear since September 11 and our activities in Afghanistan, it’s that we clearly not only need to be able to win the war on terror today,” said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, “but we also need to be prepared to win the wars of tomorrow.”
In all, Mr. Bush wants a $48 billion, or 14 percent, increase for an armed force that is fighting the first stage of the anti-terror war in Afghanistan and is expected to be deployed in other regions to eliminate Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network.
The $48 billion is the largest percentage increase since President Ronald Reagan’s anti-Soviet buildup two decades ago. But the figure is somewhat misleading. More than $10 billion goes to new retirement pay and health care. And the $10 billion emergency fund may not be needed.
Mr. Bush, who a week ago warned of an “axis of evil” Iraq, Iran and North Korea traveled to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., to tell the troops that his budget includes a 4.1 percent pay raise, as well as programs to transform the force.
“We need to be agile and mobile, and therefore we need to replace aging aircraft and get ready to be able to defend freedom with the best equipment possible,” the president said at Eglin, a testing ground for new, more accurate munitions.
The document marked Mr. Bush’s first five-year defense plan. Spending will increase by $120 billion overall, reaching a $451 billion level in 2007. Rather than ushering in radical change, the plan outlines a gradual transformation in the way the Pentagon does business, while retaining the broad structure of a 1.4 million active force.
“The defense budget is cheap when one compares it to putting our security at risk, our lives at risk, our country at risk, our freedom at risk,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Mr. Bush campaigned for president on a theme of transforming the military for 21st century threats. He suggested some major weapons programs would be canceled in favor of more advanced systems 10 years down the road.
But his long-range plan preserves virtually all big-ticket weapons, such as the F-22 and the tri-service JSF. The F-22 Raptor, which is designed to replace the F-15 Eagle as the Air Force’s top air-to-air fighter, would receive $4.6 billion next year to build 23 aircraft and start work on another 27. The goal is 331 F-22s for $60 billion.
The funding, part of a combined $123 billion procurement and research and development budget, was a concession by Mr. Rumsfeld’s staff to uniformed leaders who argued the Pentagon needed to move now to replace aging aircraft.
Another top Bush priority, a national missile defense program, would receive $7.8 billion next year to carry out an accelerated test program.
Now nearly four months old, the war in Afghanistan has cost the United States about $7 billion. The White House is expected to ask Congress later this month for an extra $10 billion in fiscal 2002 to pay war bills. With a $10 billion war reserve in 2003, Mr. Bush would not need a new emergency bill next year.
The one exception to the no-termination trend is the Navy’s next-generation destroyer, the DD-21. The Pentagon canceled the program and created the DDX, a test bed for a new class of warship that will attempt to use futuristic systems for attacking land and sea targets.
The Pentagon is holding up the Vietnam-era B-52 Stratofortress as an example of Mr. Bush’s desire for transformation. Armed for the first time with satellite-guided bombs and with communications links to ground troops, the slow-moving B-52 was used for on-the-spot tactical air strikes. Bombardiers could instantly program each 2,000-pound bomb to hit what the military calls “targets of opportunity.”
“It is a transformed B-52,” said a senior defense official.