The Obama administration is seeking a record $708 billion for the Defense Department in fiscal 2011, as the U.S. military continues to wrestle with a mounting bill for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan while trying to better equip itself for small-scale conflicts.
The budget request released on Monday reflects Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ drive to bolster the Pentagon’s unconventional-warfare capabilities needed in today’s operations. That means increasing funding for programs such as unmanned aerial vehicles, which are used currently for targeting enemies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. At the same time, Mr. Gates is seeking to reduce or eliminate more ambitious high-tech weapons systems that he feels drain financial resources.
“Making these tough decisions and trade-offs is especially important in the constrained budget environment we face today, and almost certainly will face in the future,” Mr. Gates said.
To achieve that, the White House is trying again to kill off two programs that survived last year with the help of Congress: alternate engines for Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 fighter and Boeing Co.’s C-17 transport plane.
Mr. Gates said it was time to “take a final stand” against Congress’s repeated funding of the F-35 alternate engine design and said he would go so far as to recommend that Mr. Obama veto a defense bill that includes money for it.
The Obama administration’s first budget, for fiscal-year 2010, succeeded in canceling or curtailing some of the defense industry’s most prized weapons programs.
The Defense Department’s base budget request is $548.9 billion. That request is 3.4% above 2010’s level.
The Obama administration also wants an additional $159.3 billion in war costs for fiscal 2011, in part to cover intensified operations in Afghanistan. The White House is also seeking $33 billion in additional war costs for 2010.
Efforts to train and equip Afghan security forces, a cornerstone of the U.S counterinsurgency strategy there, will require $11.6 billion.
The largest spending increase is in the department’s operations and maintenance account, which could rise about 8.5% to $200.2 billion if the administration gets its way. Such funding is used for everything from civilian pay to fuel to spare parts.
The proposed weapons plans would save some $3.1 billion, according to the administration.
Overall, the funding put aside to buy military hardware is set to rise by 7.7%, to $112.9 billion. A significant portion of this funding will be spent on battle-ready weapons like helicopters from Boeing and United Technologies Corp.’s Sikorsky unit that see heavy use in current military operations.
Mr. Gates said the Pentagon is buying as many of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.’s armed Reaper drones as it possibly could, which reflects the military’s growing appetite for better battlefield intelligence.
The biggest single weapons program is the F-35 or Joint Strike Fighter, which will receive about $10.9 billion in the base budget. Despite the strong funding, Mr. Gates said he was unhappy with development issues, and that Lockheed would forfeit $614 million in fees.
The administration will press ahead with developing a new long-range bomber with $200 million set aside in 2011 for early efforts.t