- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The White House’s defense budget request for fiscal 2014 calls for a new round of base closures, the termination of at least two weapons systems and continued funding of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project.

At $526 billion, the fiscal 2014 defense budget is only slightly lower than the White House’s $528 billion requests for 2010 and 2011.

The budget anticipates savings from closing bases, which would not start until 2016 if approved by Congress; ending or restructuring “lower priority and poorly performing” weapons programs; reducing the number of active-duty personnel and contractors; and slowing the growth of military pay and benefits.

Weapons programs that would be terminated include the Missile Defense Agency Precision Tracking Space System, which aims to provide space-based tracking of ballistic missiles, and the Expeditionary Combat Support System, which was to consolidate and automate the Air Force’s logistics operations.

At least two programs would be restructured — the Standard Missile-3 Block IIB, which is being designed to counter ballistic missiles, and the Ground Combat Vehicle, which would replace the Army’s armored fighting vehicles.

Investments would include $8.4 billion for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, which has been plagued by cost overruns and production delays; $10.9 billion for ship construction; $9.2 billion for missile defense; and $379 million for the development of a penetrating bomber.

The budget’s call for base closings — using a process called Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) — backtracks on a campaign promise by President Obama.

“BRAC is the only effective means of achieving infrastructure consolidation,” the Pentagon said. “This BRAC round adds $2.4 billion to costs in the next five years but would eventually save substantial sums. The actual closing of bases would involve a multiyear process that would not start until 2016, after the economy is projected to have more fully recovered.”

During a campaign interview with a Virginia radio station, Mr. Obama said now is not the time for base closings.

“We just went through some base closings, and the strategy that we have does not call for that,” he said.

In fact, his proposed fiscal 2013 budget at that time did call for a new BRAC. Then-Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and the Joint Chiefs of Staff had testified to Congress in the winter of 2012 that they desperately needed to close excess properties.

Under the 2014 budget request, military personnel would receive a 1 percent pay raise, down from a planned increase of 1.4 percent. Basic housing allowances would increase by 4.2 percent, and subsistence allowances by 3.4 percent.

The Pentagon also will resubmit from last year changes in military health care enrollment fees and pharmacy co-payments, which Congress rejected.

Despite these cost-cutting measures, the 2014 defense budget request is $34 billion higher than the actual 2013 defense budget, and only $6 billion lower than the fiscal 2013 budget request — not counting automatic spending cuts that began March 1, according to Pentagon figures.

The budget request is designed to implement the president’s defense strategy, unveiled last year, even though the Pentagon is undergoing a review of that strategy with regard to the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration.

The Pentagon said the 2014 request “continues the implementation and deepening of program alignment” to the defense strategy, which includes a rebalancing of U.S. military assets to the Asia-Pacific region, and increasing funding for space, special operations, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

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