Monday, February 7, 2005

The Pentagon is seeking $419.3 billion for fiscal 2006, a 4.8 percent increase, and wants to renew work on a rock-penetrating nuclear bomb that could be used against underground bunkers in places such as Iran and North Korea.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld recently asked the Energy Department to spend $18 million over the next two years to finish a study on the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, or RNEP, which congressional opponents of nuclear weapons sought to kill this year by cutting all funding.

“The reason the money was put in the budget was the result of a direct request from [the Defense Department] to finish the study,” said Anson Franklin, a spokesman for the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration. “The secretary of defense was consulted, and based on that information we put it back in the budget.”

Little has been stated in public about the new warhead. Pentagon officials say it is needed because countries such as Iran and North Korea have set up underground facilities to produce and store nuclear and other arms.

The RNEP is being designed to burrow through as much as 300 feet of rock or earth before detonating a high-yield nuclear explosion.

Under the defense spending plan, which Congress must approve, funding for missile defenses will be cut by $5 billion over the next six years, and a plan to build an interceptor capable of shooting down enemy missiles in the early phase of flight would be eliminated.

Last year, the Bush administration fielded the first elements of a U.S. defense system capable of shooting down long-range missiles.

At the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld said the new defense budget reflects efforts to transform the military into a “more agile, lethal and expeditionary force.”

“As a nation at war, an overriding priority must be to ensure that commanders have the troops and the equipment that they need to prevail in the global struggle against extremists,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

“At the same time, we have to prepare for future threats, both conventional and asymmetric, and continue to reform the defense establishment accordingly.”

One program facing cuts is the Air Force’s F-22 fighter. The budget calls for producing 179 of the advanced jets instead of the original 275 sought by the Air Force.

The Navy will cut its aircraft carrier battle groups from 12 to 11.

The Pentagon is seeking a total of $1.9 billion for a new round of military base closings.

Changes to the Army and Marine Corps ground forces are a central element of military restructuring, officials said. The Marines will receive two additional active-duty ground forces battalions by 2008.

The Army will grow from 33 combat brigades to 43 brigades. The number of U.S. reservists also will be expanded.

Military personnel will receive a 3.1 percent pay increase under the budget.

Vice Adm. Robert Willard, head of the Joint Staff force structure, resources and assessment branch, said cuts in missile defense were the result of narrowing options to weapons “showing the most promise and development.”

The carrier battle group cut will be met through a Navy rapid-deployment plan that calls for sending six carriers and accompanying warships in 30 days, and one or two more in 90 days, Adm. Willard said.

On the burrowing warhead, Mr. Franklin said, $4 million would be spent beginning in October and another $14 million for fiscal 2007. So far, $16.8 million was spent on the program since 2002, he said.

Mr. Franklin said the program will be narrowed down to adapting a B-83 nuclear warhead into a rock-burrowing, penetrator warhead. Earlier work at two U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories called for using either a B-83 or B-61 warhead inside the digging package.

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