Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Pentagon is reorienting U.S. military forces toward battling insurgents and terrorists, and on Monday released its new four-year strategy and a $708 billion defense budget request to support it.

Despite the cancellation of numerous weapons projects, the defense spending request to Congress grew by 3.4 percent from 2010, with $159.3 billion to be allocated for U.S. military missions in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. That war funding adds on to a base Pentagon budget of $548.9 billion.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the new strategy and budget reflect an effort to “enhance our ability to fight the wars we are in today, while at the same time providing a hedge against current and future risks and contingencies.”

“We have, in a sober and clear-eyed way, assessed risk, set priorities, made trade-offs, and identified requirements based on plausible, real-world threats, scenarios and potential adversaries,” Mr. Gates told reporters at the Pentagon.

The Quadrennial Defense Review, which was made public separately Monday and reflected the budget’s emphasis on counterinsurgency, lists China as one of the United States’ main “potentially hostile” nations, along with North Korea and Iran.

The report said the Pentagon welcomes China’s growing power and influence but warns that “lack of transparency and the nature of China’s military development and decision-making processes raise legitimate questions about its future conduct and intentions within Asia and beyond.”

The new strategy abandons the decades-long policy of maintaining large numbers of troops and weapons that could fight two major regional wars at the same time, for example in the Middle East and Asia.

The immediate priority of U.S. military strategy will be the “substantial” forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, the report said, noting that the conflicts “will substantially determine the size and shape of major elements of U.S. military forces for several years.”

“In the mid- to long term, we expect there to be enduring operational requirements in Afghanistan and elsewhere to defeat al Qaeda and its allies,” the report said.

Instead, the strategy focuses on a variety of “security challenges” that include threats to satellites in space and computer networks in cyberspace, as well as terrorists acquiring and using weapons of mass destruction.

“We have learned through painful experience that the wars we fight are seldom the wars we planned,” Mr. Gates said. “As a result, the United States needs a broad portfolio of military capabilities, with maximum versatility across the widest possible spectrum of conflicts.”

Top defense priorities in budget and strategy are now focused on achieving objectives in Afghanistan, where troops are being added, and Iraq, where forces are being withdrawn. Key systems to be added include unmanned aerial vehicles — drones capable of spying on targets and firing missiles — which will increase by 75 percent over the next several years.

Additionally, more helicopters will be purchased and two more Army combat aviation brigades will be created. A third area will be increasing special operations forces with 2,800 more commandos.

The Pentagon’s budget and strategy include a new emphasis on preparing to deal with failed or collapsing states by boosting security assistance, through weapons and training, with an additional $150 million.

The Pentagon also will continue to work overseas to try to halt the flow of weapons to dangerous regions and will add funds to U.S. nuclear weapons and infrastructure to modernize an aging arsenal needed to deter nuclear states.

Mr. Gates said “we will maintain a reliable and credible nuclear deterrent” with details to be disclosed in a forthcoming nuclear posture report.

For longer-term threats and potential threats, the new strategy calls for investing in boosting power projection and deterring aggression through new air-sea weapons systems, long-range strike arms and space and cyberspace weapons.

Key systems funded in the new budget include $11 billion for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which has experienced cost overruns; $25 billion for ship-building; $3 billion to modernize ground forces; and $10 billion for missile defenses. The new budget also calls for about $4 billion for conventional-strike aircraft with a global reach, along with missiles and other upgrades of U.S. bombers.

One loser is the C-17 transport aircraft, which will halt production. The C-17 was a favorite program of some congressional lawmakers, who would frequently add funding for additional C-17s to annual defense budgets.

The Pentagon also is seeking to bolster the all-volunteer military force with $8.8 billion to try to shorten deployment tours, enhance treatment for wounded service members, and help with family assistance — more counseling, child care and education support.

Other programs that were killed and their funding cut from the budget include the Navy’s EPX intelligence aircraft, the Navy’s next-generation CGX cruiser; a new high-tech communications network; and a program to examine an alternative engine for the F-35.

Mr. Gates also said he is asking Congress to pass a supplemental funding bill by spring 2010 for troops in Afghanistan and the region.

The 2011 budget proposal also includes the fiscal 2010 supplemental request of $33 billion to support the added costs regarding the presidents new Afghanistan strategy. As U.S. force levels increase by 30,000 additional troops this year, ensuring that support has become a significant concern for Pentagon leaders.

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, praised the Pentagon for focusing on winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. McKeon said “Secretary Gates and Adm. [Mike] Mullen [chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff], have rightly laser focused our national defense road map on winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” However, Mr. McKeon warned that this focus should not mean that the United States must accept a greater risk in dealing with other defense challenges.

At the Energy Department, officials disclosed that the budget request for nuclear weapons and other programs is $11.2 billion, an increase of 13.4 percent from last year.

The budget focuses on upgrading infrastructure to maintain nuclear weapons, on preventing nuclear proliferation, and on funding Navy nuclear-ship programs.

“The presidents budget request makes crucial investments in the infrastructure required to maintain a modern, sustainable nuclear security enterprise and strengthen our ability to recruit, train and retain the skilled people we need to maintain our nuclear capabilities,” said Thomas DAgostino, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The budget proposal will delay until after 2015 replacements for two new Navy command and control ships — a move the White House said would save $3.8 billion across the Pentagon’s five-year defense plan.

The Navy had planned to buy one command ship in 2012 and a second one in 2014.

Mr. Gates, during a news conference Monday, was asked about China’s decision to cut most military exchanges with the Pentagon after the announcement of a $6.4 billion arms package to Taiwan.

“Stability is enhanced by contact between our military and a greater understanding of each other’s strategies, so I hope that if there is a downturn, that it will be a temporary one and that we can get back to strengthening this relationship,” Mr. Gates said.

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