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Pentagon chief unveils plan to buy more ships, aircraft and munitions

Pentagon chief unveils plan to buy more ships, aircraft and munitions

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Wednesday announced plans for the Pentagon to buy more Navy ships, aircraft, munitions and capabilities over the next five years.

He said the administration's fiscal 2017 defense budget will include money to buy nine Virginia-class attack submarines and 10 Aegis destroyers. The purchase of the submarines had been planned, but Carter said one of them would have a Virginia payload module to triple its firepower. 

In addition, the combat systems on 12 existing Aegis destroyers will be modernized.  

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Carter also announced the Pentagon would increase its planned buy of aircraft "by dozens," to include 13 more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and 16 more F-18 Super Hornets over the next five years.

Ten of the F-35s would go to the Navy, and three would go to the Marine Corps.

In addition, the budget seeks to invest $2.9 billion over the next five years to maximize production of the SM-6 missile, for a total of 625 missiles.

For 2017, that would be $587 million for 125 missiles, according to a senior defense official.

Carter also announced that the SM-6 missiles can now be used to target ships, in addition to knocking down missiles. He said the new capability was tested successfully in secret last month.  

"In addition to missile defense, it can also target enemy ships at sea at very long ranges," Carter said, which makes the missile a "two-fer." 

Carter said the Pentagon would spend $600 million over five years on a variable-size-payload unmanned undersea vehicles, but only buy 40 new littoral combat ships, down from the 52 it had initially planned.

The move allow the Navy to invest $8 billion more into "high end capabilities," Carter said. 

"Our fleet will be larger, much more effective, and more lethal...to deter any aggressor and to make any aggressor who isn't deterred regret [it]," he added.

He emphasized that the Pentagon was still "buying more" of the littoral combat ship because it conducts important missions such as minesweeping and anti-submarine warfare. Still, he added that "in 2016, we need to balance our ship-building investments." 

He said the Pentagon was at an "inflection point" that would see more spending on higher-end, more capable ships, versus numbers. 

"We need to balance those investments because we face competitors that are challenging us," he said. 

The purchases are part of Carter's focus on improving the lethality of existing systems and intended to deter future aggression from Russia and China.

"We have to cast our eyes ahead, 10, 20, 30 years from now," Carter told troops after visiting the destroyer USS Spruance. 

"You right here, right now, are on the cutting edge." 

This story was updated at 5:56 p.m.