Defense Budget Eyes Unconventional Wars

The $419 billion defense budget (search) that President Bush submitted to Congress on Monday would buy fewer planes, ships and submarines than the Pentagon previously planned, but it puts extra emphasis on anti-terror commandos and expands the Army and Marine Corps.

Spending for the budget year that starts Oct. 1 would be 4.8 percent higher than the current defense budget, although neither year's budget includes the billions spent for war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq is expected to cost $100 billion this year and a similar amount in 2006; that money is authorized and spent through a separate budgeting process.

"This budget represents the latest installment in the resident's strong commitment to transforming this department to face the challenges of the 21st century," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a written statement. "We continue our transition to a more agile, deployable, and lethal force."

The defense budget under President Bush has grown rapidly since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which led to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban and hunt down leaders of the Al Qaeda (search) terrorist network, but the Iraq war has been the more costly enterprise.

In order to make room for the extra costs of warfighting, the Pentagon has cut billions from planned spending on the Air Force's high-priority fighter jet program, the F/A-22, as well as Navy shipbuilding. The F/A-22 (search) program will be halted in 2008 after 179 planes are built — 96 short of the Air Force's goal, and the Navy will get only four new vessels — one submarine and three ships — instead of the six that the Pentagon had said a year ago it would fund in the 2006 budget.

Military personnel would get a 3.1 percent pay raise, and pay for Pentagon civilians would rise 2.3 percent.

Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, called the 3.1 percent pay raise a "bare minimum," and said the budget as a whole does too little for the troops.

Steven Kosiak, a budget expert at the private Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said it is unlikely that Congress will make any net reductions to Bush's budget proposal for 2006.

"However, over the longer term, once a decision is made to address the ballooning federal deficit, history strongly suggests that cuts in defense spending — or at a minimum slower rates of growth in defense spending — will be part of the solution adopted," Kosiak said.

The budget includes $1.9 billion to begin paying for a new round of military base closings. Pentagon recommendations on which bases to close will be presented to an independent commission in May. The Pentagon expects to spend another $5.7 billion on this process in 2007, although at a future point the closures are expected to save billions of dollars.

The plan includes a realignment of Marine Corps forces to create, by 2008, two additional active-duty infantry battalions and other units that specialize in intelligence, reconnaissance and counterterrorism, the Marines announced on Monday. They will accomplish this without adding more Marines, by reducing the number of artillery, tank and air defense units.

The budget does not include funds to pay the estimated $286 million it will cost to retroactively increase death payments, known as "gratuities," to the families of military personnel killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Those payments will rise from $12,420 to $100,000 per family. The money will come from a supplemental budget request to be submitted later.

Among other highlights of Bush's proposed $419 billion in defense spending:

— Special operations forces, including Navy, Air Force and Army commandos, get $4.1 billion, in part to pay for hiring an extra 200 civilians and 1,200 military personnel, including four platoons of Navy SEAL commandos. More also will be spent on developing foreign language capabilities.

— The weapons buying budget shrinks by $100 million, to $78 billion. Last year at this time the Pentagon said it intended to increase the procurement budget by $2 billion, rather than shrink it. The Army would take the biggest cut, about $2.7 billion, while the Navy would get a $1.2 billion increase.

— Spending on defenses against attack by chemical or biological agents would be $1.6 billion in 2006 and $9.9 billion over the 2006-2011 period covered by the Pentagon budget plan. That's $2.1 billion more than the Pentagon had previously planned.