- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2018

Defense spending jumps significantly in the proposed 2019 Trump administration budget to $686 billion — up roughly 15 percent from 2017.

Pentagon officials said Monday the new spending is needed to fund more than 25,000 new troops and to pay for a slew of cutting-edge weaponry — from the fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and new B-21 Long Range Strike bomber to Virginia-class fast attack submarines and ballistic missile interceptor systems.

Analysts say the White House spending blueprint represents down payment on the National Defense Strategy the administration outlined last month. The president wants to shift the U.S. military’s focus from protracted wars against extremist groups like al-Qaida and Islamic State toward threats posed by Russia, China and North Korea.

The Pentagon has sought a combined $10 billion just to finance the F-35 and B-21 — next generation warplanes designed to penetrate the most advance anti-aircraft systems fielded by “near-peer” countries like China and Russia. Officials say an additional $7.4 billion for Virginia-class attack subs will bolster the Navy’s underwater fleet, which is facing threats from a resurgent Russian submarine force.

Missile defense weapons like the AEGIS, Ground-based Midcourse Defense system and the THAAD ballistic missile defense weapon — touted as critical in deterring intercontinental missile threats from North Korea — received a total of $4.9 million in the administration’s proposed spending increase.

Defense Department Comptroller David L. Norquist said Monday the Trump plan represents a course correction from low military spending under previous administrations. While spending by Beijing and Moscow has skyrocketed in recent years, Mr. Norquist said that in 2016, the U.S. military “was the smallest it had been since before World War II.”

Should Congress agree with the Trump plan, he said, defense outlays will still “remain near historical lows as a share of the U.S. economy.”

“It is important to understand the hole we are climbing out of,” Mr. Norquist said.

Less money for diplomacy

Amid talk of increased military spending, officials at the State Department and USAID are wary of possible cuts, as well as the prospect of an American diplomatic core shrinking from attrition, resignations and dismissals.

The Trump budget caps State Department spending at $39.3 billion — down from the roughly $55 billion spent by the department in 2017. But it’s unclear exactly where the department’s cumulative spending will stand over the three-year period from 2017 through 2019 because of uncertainty around congressional budget negotiations.

Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan told reporters Monday that the budget deal reached on Capitol Hill last week would increase overall discretionary spending by some $300 billion over two years.

“As part of this deal, budget caps on non-defense discretionary spending, which includes spending for State and USAID, would be increased by $63 billion this year and $68 billion next year,” Mr. Sullivan said. “This reflects an additional $1.5 billion for State and USAID provided specifically for humanitarian assistance and global health programs, as well as contributions to international organizations.”

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, however, has defended the administration’s proposed cuts in both the State and USAID budgets.

The cuts, if enacted, would severely erode American “soft power” projection around the world, diplomats and defense officials warn.

Several former top military officers criticized at the notion of possible State Department cuts Monday, saying Washington risks losing its recent military gains in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

“Near-term cuts is not just a near-term cut, its enduring. You will always be catching up,” Gen. Charles F. Wald, former deputy commander for U.S. European Command, said on a conference call with reporters.

The Pentagon’s increasing dependence on allies and proxy forces to battle extremists will require a robust U.S. diplomatic presence, said retired Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. on the call. “We have a strategy and budget mismatch.”

• Carlo Muñoz can be reached at cmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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