Pentagon budget request swells to $419.3 billion, but procurement falls

The Pentagon’s $419.3 billion request for 2006 continues a trend of burgeoning defense spending, but the department’s budget — one of only two in the federal government to grow significantly over last year’s request — hints of cuts to come and changing defense priorities. The budget submission, a 4.8 percent increase over 2005, funds such pricey platforms as the Air Force’s F/A-22 Raptor fighter jet and the Army’s Future Combat Systems. Overall, however, procurement accounts decreased by $1.6 billion over 2005 appropriations, and research and development accounts remained relatively stagnant.

The Pentagon’s $419.3 billion request for 2006 continues a trend of burgeoning defense spending, but the department’s budget — one of only two in the federal government to grow significantly over last year’s request — hints of cuts to come and changing defense priorities.

The budget submission, a 4.8 percent increase over 2005, funds such pricey platforms as the Air Force’s F/A-22 Raptor fighter jet and the Army’s Future Combat Systems. Overall, however, procurement accounts decreased by $1.6 billion over 2005 appropriations, and research and development accounts remained relatively stagnant.

The Pentagon has proposed a handful of cuts to this year’s budget, including $1 billion from missile defense. Other cuts tended to be less substantial, essentially taking several million dollars from various accounts.

“This is a pinking-shears approach,” said Gordon Adams, the former associate director of national security programs at the Office of Management and Budget. “You sort of get a jagged line cutting off the edges of the budgetary garment.”

Instead of procurement, the budget focuses largely on operations and maintenance, increasing funding in those accounts to $147.8 billion, or $11 billion more than 2005. The request also sets aside billions to restructure combat and support units across the services. The word “transformation” — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s rallying cry for state-of-the-art technologies — does not appear on the Defense Department’s eight-page budget summary until Page 3.

“We’re not talking about transforming the force here. We’re talking about supporting the global war on terrorism and restructuring the force,” Adams said. “In a way, it’s very old-fashioned.”

He added that it’s a “back-door way of acknowledging you can’t do the global war on terrorism on supplementals alone.”

Still, Pentagon officials stressed the importance of developing “joint capabilities for the future,” including stealthy warships and fighters. While those programs are among the Pentagon’s top buying priorities for 2006, the department plans to put them on the cutting blocks in 2008 and beyond.

Budget documents provided by the Pentagon reiterate plans to slash F/A-22 procurement from 277 aircraft to 179, essentially canceling any buys after 2008. The Defense Department also plans to buy two fewer DD(X) destroyers later this decade in its effort to cut back on spending.

In 2006, the Pentagon plans to pour $4.3 billion into buying Raptors — a $400 million decrease over last year’s budget, but second only to missile defense in terms of procurement dollars. Meanwhile, the DD(X) destroyer’s accounts will swell to $1.8 billion in 2006, a $330 million increase from 2005, according to the request.

According to senior Pentagon officials, these pricey capabilities have been planned in excess and are some of the platforms the military can “take risk” on down the road, the officials said during a Feb. 4 press briefing.

“I think [Office of the Secretary of Defense] wants to position itself as not being opposed to these systems, but squarely in their corner,” said Doug Berenson, a defense industry analyst at DFI International. “They want to come at this appearing to be a reasonable steward of the taxpayer’s limited money and having made some tough judgments about how many of this or that to buy.”

Steve Kosiak, a budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, agreed.

“They are trying to make it clear that while they are scaling back these programs, they’re not decimating them,” he said.

But officials stressed that the proposed cuts — outlined in a widely reported program budget decision leaked to the press in December — have not been finalized.

The Pentagon’s decisionmaking process is “iterative,” one senior official said. “We’re going to continue to think through this process,” she added.

At first glance of the 2006 request, the administration plans to buy two fewer Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles, though funding on the program remains relatively unchanged from original plans, Berenson said. And the budget request also appears to decrease the buys on Sikorsky’s MH-60R multimission helicopter program for the Navy by three choppers.

Other programs received some significant funding increases, including Lockheed Martin’s Space-Based Infrared System-High, which will provide initial warning of a ballistic missile attack against U.S. targets, Berenson added. Meanwhile, two other Lockheed Martin programs — the Army’s Aerial Common Sensor and the presidential helicopter program — also got multimillion-dollar increases to their budgets over the Pentagon’s initial plans.

The Pentagon stuck to its plans on other major programs, including the Army’s $117 billion Future Combat Systems (FCS), the centerpiece of its transformation efforts. Developed by Boeing, FCS would receive $3.4 billion next year, up from $2.8 billion in 2005.

Other top priorities include developing chemical and biological defense systems, adding $2.1 billion to the program for 2006 to 2011. Next year alone, the Pentagon wants to spend $1.6 billion on defense systems and detection devices.

Companies involved in homeland defense could also benefit from the 2006 budget request, which includes $9.5 billion for detection and protection against weapons of mass destruction, emergency preparedness and response and protection of critical infrastructure, according to the budget documents.

The supplemental request, which will be considered in Congress alongside the budget discussions, is expected to hit $75 billion. Between $12 billion and $15 billion of that could be for procurement, mostly for the Army.

“There is another shoe or two to drop here,” Berenson said.