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Pentagon Budget Focuses on Evolving Challenges

Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks about the upcoming Defense Department's budget, Feb. 2, 2016, during a speech at the Economic Club of Washington in Washington.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has laid out his military spending priorities for the 2017 Pentagon budget, reflecting efforts to counter Russia's assertiveness and fight Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

The $583 billion defense budget request shifts the weight of defense spending to “five evolving challenges,” including a power competition from Russia and China, regional threats from North Korea and Iran, and the enduring counterterrorism threat.

Carter said Tuesday Russia and China are the United States’ “most stressing competitors,” and the new budget proposal accounts for the ongoing re-balance to Asia as well as quadrupling the budget for reinforcing the U.S. military posture in Europe.

President Barack Obama issued a statement that the budget increases for Europe "should make clear that America will stand firm with its allies in defending not just NATO territory but also shared principles of international law and order." Obama noted that "since the start of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine almost two years ago, the United States has taken decisive and sustained steps to assure our allies."

The Pentagon budget calls for $7.5 billion to fight Islamic State, a 50 percent increase from last year. It also provides $1.8 billion to buy more than 45,000 additional GPS-guided smart bombs and laser-guided rockets, which have become the weapons of choice in the air campaign against IS terrorists.

FILE - The USS Curtis Wilbur, a 8,950-ton Aegis destroyer of the U.S. Navy, arrives at a naval base in Busan, South Korea, June 4, 2010.
FILE - The USS Curtis Wilbur, a 8,950-ton Aegis destroyer of the U.S. Navy, arrives at a naval base in Busan, South Korea, June 4, 2010.

Looking ahead

Carter said the budget will boost spending on undersea warfare, cyber, space and electronic warfare and looks ahead to longer-term threats.

“We’re taking the long view,” Carter said. “Because even as we fight today’s fights, we must also be prepared for the fights that might come 10, 20, or 30 years down the road.”

The defense budget will include $8.1 billion for undersea capabilities—from better torpedoes to unmanned undersea vehicles—and nearly $7 billion in cyber.

It also includes a massive $71.4 billion for research and development accounts, which will increase the Department of Defense’s research spending for the second year in a row.


Carter said the 2017 budget requires tradeoffs among force structure, modernization and readiness. These tradeoffs have at times pitted the secretaries of the armed services against the defense secretary.

For example, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has said he favors more spending on a small, close-to-shore warship called a Littoral Combat Ship. Carter, however, said Tuesday the budget would include “only as many Littoral Combat Ships as we really need.”

In addition, Eric Fanning, the president’s choice for Army secretary, has recently criticized the administration’s plans to further shrinking the number of soldiers in order to free up money elsewhere.

He told the Senate Armed Services Committee that plans to decrease the active-duty Army by 40,000 soldiers are hurting the Army’s readiness.

“Two years ago when we targeted 450(thousand), we didn’t have ISIL, we didn’t have Russia,” Fanning said.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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