Pentagon pitches $715B budget with cuts to older weapons
The Pentagon on Friday released a $715 billion budget proposal it says is geared toward competing with China by shedding older weapons systems and investing in new technologies.
Among the major shifts, the Air Force is asking to retire more than 200 aircraft and would fund an operational hypersonic cruise missile for the first time, requesting $200 million for such a program.
The budget plan would also provide $5.1 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, the fund created by Congress to counter China in the Indo-Pacific region.
“The department in this budget takes a clear-eyed approach to Beijing and provides the investments to prioritize China as our pacing challenge,” Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks told reporters on Friday.
“The budget also documents some of the tough choices we had to make. We lessen our reliance on vulnerable systems that are no longer suited for today’s advanced threat environment or are too costly to sustain,” she added. “Critically, we reallocate resources to fund research and development in advanced technologies, such as microelectronics. This will provide the foundation for fielding a full range of needed capabilities, such as hypersonic missiles, artificial intelligence and 5G.”
The Pentagon budget released on Friday is part of the $753 billion defense spending plan the Biden administration is calling for in its overall $6 trillion federal budget for fiscal 2022.
The spending plan is unlikely to quell criticism from Republicans that the defense budget is too small to meet the challenges posed by China, while many progressives have argued that it is too large in the face of pressing domestic needs and nonmilitary threats such as pandemics.
“President Biden’s defense budget request is wholly inadequate — it’s nowhere near enough to give our service members the resources, equipment and training they need,” Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.) and Rep. Mike Rogers (Ala.), the top Republicans on the Senate and House Armed Services committees, said in a joint statement Friday. “It’s disingenuous to call this request an increase because it doesn’t even keep up with inflation — it’s a cut.”
By contrast, Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) blasted the budget as a “failure” for increasing defense funding.
“If budgets are moral documents, a $13 billion increase is a failure that doesn’t reflect this country’s actual needs,” they said. “In the last year, the biggest threat to our nation was a global pandemic, and we were drastically unprepared for it. Now we’re proposing a defense spending increase that alone is 1.5 times larger than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s entire $8.7 billion budget.”
It is Congress’s prerogative to approve funding, and lawmakers frequently deviate from or altogether ignore presidential budget requests.
Progressives and Republicans have been battling over Biden’s defense budget since the top-line dollar figures were released last month.
A $753 billion defense budget would be a modest increase over this year’s $740 billion, as would a $715 billion Pentagon budget compared to this year’s $704 billion. The increases are slightly behind the rate of inflation.
Progressives have been pushing for at least a 10 percent cut to the defense budget, while Republicans have been arguing for a 3 to 5 percent increase above inflation.
But Pentagon officials have defended the budget request as aligned with its needs.
“This budget provides us the ability to create the right mix of capabilities to defend this nation and to deter any aggressors,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on Thursday. “It adequately allows us to begin to prepare for the next fight and finish the last one.”
Austin also touted the budget’s “largest ever request” for research and development funds, revealed Friday to be $112 billion.
Testifying alongside Austin on Thursday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said the budget “is biasing the future over the present slightly.”
“When I first became chief of staff of the Army six years ago, when I looked at that budget, we were mortgaging our future to pay for the present,” Milley said. “Today it’s the opposite. We are trying right now to put down payments on investments that are gonna pay huge dividends five, 10, 15 years from now for a future force that’ll be able to compete successfully with any adversary out there, to include China.”
Among the purchases in the budget, the military services are asking for $12 billion for 85 F-35 fighter jets.
The Navy is seeking eight new warships: two Virginia-class submarines, one DDG-51 Aegis destroyer, one Constellation-class frigate, one John Lewis-class refueler, two Navajo-class T-ATS salvage and towing vessels and one auxiliary ocean surveillance vessel.
But it’s proposals to retire so-called legacy systems that are expected to be a major fight with Congress, where lawmakers fiercely protect weapons programs that benefit their districts.
Among the aircraft the Air Force is seeking to retire are 42 A-10 Warthogs, 47 F-16C/D and 48 F-15C/D fighter jets, 14 KC-10 and 18 KC-135 tankers, 13 C-130H transport planes and 16 E-8 and 20 RQ-4 drones.
Previous efforts to retire several of those aircraft have been blocked by Congress, and lawmakers are already signaling they will put up a fight again. Last month, Arizona lawmakers, who successfully led a fight against retiring the A-10 a few years ago, introduced a resolution support the aircraft.
The Navy, meanwhile, is proposing to retire four littoral combat ships, among other cuts.
All told, the Pentagon is proposing $2.8 billion in divestments, according to budget documents.
In another shift that had been telegraphed as part of the pivot toward China, Army funding would go down by about $1.6 billion, while Navy funding would increase by about $4.6 billion.
The budget also includes $2.6 billion for the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, the program to replace the aging U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile arsenal that has been a prime target for lawmakers looking to rein in the Pentagon budget.
The budget proposal would also fund a 2.7 percent pay raise for troops.
The budget also projects an active-duty end strength of 1,346,400 service members, or a reduction of roughly 4,600 troops. Troop cuts include about 2,700 Marines, 2,200 sailors, 1,000 soldiers and about 800 airmen. The Space Force, meanwhile, would grow by almost 2,000 guardians.
The Space Force, which will be in its second year of having a budget separate from the Air Force, is requesting $17.4 billion, about $2 billion more than this year.