President Bush has proposed a nearly five percent increase in the basic defense budget for the fiscal year that begins in October. Officials say the money is needed for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to fight the broader war on terrorism, as well as to continue the restructuring and modernization of the U.S. military. The department also plans to ask Congress for an additional $75 billion for the current year, on top of the $25 billion supplement already approved.
The president's budget calls for just over $419 billion for the Defense Department next year, about $20 billion more than the current year. The budget information released by the department on Monday indicates that much of the increase is related to efforts to make the U.S. military more responsive to today's threats. Officials say that means more high technology, better equipment on land, sea and in the air, an extensive re-training program for U.S. troops, and more money for their pay and benefits.
The new force, which will take years to develop, is to be more modern, more mobile and more effective. But presenting the budget at the Pentagon Monday, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said there is some misunderstanding about that. "I've noticed people have thought that when someone uses the words agile, lethal, expeditionary, they think that means smaller. It doesn't. It isn't the size of the force that was wrong, it's the shape of the force and the capability of the force," he said.
And Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledged that it is not possible to understand the U.S. defense budget without looking at the supplemental requests that the department presents every year. The Congress has already added $25 billion to the defense budget for the current year, and the department plans to ask for another $75 billion. Officials acknowledge that the fiscal year 2006 budget presented Monday will also need supplements.
There is already much discussion in Washington over whether the defense budget is too large or too small, and whether it achieves the modernization goals the department set out. Analyst Winslow Wheeler, who worked on defense budgets as a congressional staff member for more than 30 years and now works at the Center for Defense Information, says the new defense budget is too large in some areas, too small in others, and does not address current needs as much as officials say it does.
"There are lots of issues that the Defense Department needs to address to respond better to 21st century warfare, but thus far those responses have been feeble," he said.
Mr. Wheeler says the Defense Department budget still has too many Cold War-style weapons systems in it that he says are irrelevant to today's type of warfare.
Defense Department officials call their budget well-balanced, and say it is beginning to transform the U.S. defense capability in the direction it needs to go. They note that some expensive weapons programs have been reduced to pay for an increase and reorganization of ground forces and improvements to their equipment. There is a plan to de-commission one of the 12 U.S. aircraft carriers. The numbers of new fighter jets and submarines to be built have been reduced. Even the missile defense program supported by the president has been reduced by more than 10 percent.
Indeed, in spite of the overall spending increase, the budget is about five billion dollars less than had been projected. The officials say they have done their best to keep costs down in what is by far the largest part of the U.S. government budget, which is running a large deficit.
Analyst Frank Gafney, at the Center for Security Policy, says the United States can continue spending hundreds of billions of dollars on defense, as long as the government can convince the people that it is necessary. "Oh, I think we can sustain that level of spending and more if we need to. The question is, do we appreciate adequately, either as a government or as a people, that the costs associated with a global war are high, and are likely to remain that way," he said.
Official projections for the defense budget indicate it will rise several percent in each of the next five years, to more than $500 billion in 2011, plus the annual supplements.The budget made public Monday now goes to the Congress, where numerous increases and decreases are likely to be made before it goes into effect late in the year.