Overnight Defense: Pentagon details $718 billion budget request | Officials defend boost for war fund | Armed Services chair aims to 'kill' Trump plan for low-yield nuke

Overnight Defense: Pentagon details $718 billion budget request | Officials defend boost for war fund | Armed Services chair aims to 'kill' Trump plan for low-yield nuke
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Happy Tuesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

 

THE TOPLINE: The Pentagon on Tuesday revealed the details of its $718 billion fiscal year 2020 budget, promising the document would "strongly position the U.S. military for great power competition for decades to come."

"With the largest research and development request in 70 years, this strategy-driven budget makes necessary investments in next-generation technology, space, missiles, and cyber capabilities," acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanDefense chief calls on European allies to be wary of China's investments, blasts Russia Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall Why Dave Norquist is the perfect choice for DOD's deputy secretary MORE said in a statement Tuesday. "The operations and capabilities supported by this budget will strongly position the U.S. military for great power competition for decades to come."

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The Pentagon's release Tuesday fills in details after the White House released the broad outlines of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Trump to withdraw FEMA chief nominee: report MORE's defense budget proposal on Monday.

Trump is requesting a total of $750 billion for defense for fiscal 2020. That includes $718 billion for the Pentagon as well as $32 billion in non-Pentagon defense funding. 

Aircraft plans: The Pentagon confirmed Tuesday that it plans to buy 78 F-35 fighter jets, or six fewer than previously planned, for $11.2 billion and eight F-15EXs for $1.1 billion.

The military has not bought F-15X fighters from Boeing since 2001. The timing of the request while the department is being led by former Boeing executive Shanahan has led to accusations about Boeing's influence, but Pentagon officials insisted the decision was made by former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico Trump needs a national security adviser who 'speaks softly' US could deploy 150 troops to Syria: report MORE.

Acting comptroller Elaine McCusker, however, said at a Pentagon press briefing that it was former Secretary James Mattis that came up with balance between the fourth and fifth generation aircraft before he left in December.

Pay increases and Space Force: The budget would also fund a total increase of 7,722 service members, split between 6,215 in active duty and 1,507 in the reserves and Guard. In active duty, the Army would get 2,000 more soldiers, the Navy 1,623 more sailors, the Marines 100 more troops and the Air Force 2,492 more airmen.

The budget request also has a total of $14.7 billion for space, including the previously announced $72 million for the establishment of Space Force. The Pentagon is also asking for $83 million to stand up Space Command and $150 million to create the Space Development Agency, which would handle acquisition.

Cuts to missiles, and European defense: The budget sees a slight dip in the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI) fund, which is meant to reassure allies wary about Russian aggression. The fiscal 2020 request for the EDI is $5.9 billion, down from $6.5 billion in fiscal 2019.

McCusker said the drop is "absolutely not" because of a lowered threat from Russia, but rather because of some of the work funded last year is now done. She also said the United States is looking at "increased burden sharing" from allies.

Also getting a slight cut is the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) budget, despite the Trump administration's recently released Missile Defense Review that promised to bulk up missile defenses. The agency's budget request is $9.4 billion, down from $9.9 billion in fiscal 2019.

 

PENTAGON PUSHES BACK ON ACCUSATIONS OF $165B 'BUDGETARY GIMMICK': Pentagon officials on Tuesday defended the administration's decision to propose boosting a war spending account to $165 billion, a move directed by the White House and blasted by some lawmakers as a "budgetary gimmick."

"From our perspective, we built a budget that is required to carry out the National Defense Strategy," acting Defense Department Comptroller Elaine McCusker told reporters at the Pentagon. "The decision on how to best finance that budget was made by [White House Office of Management and Budget] and something that we followed their direction on."

The criticism: President Trump's fiscal 2020 budget request – which calls for $750 billion in defense-related spending – has come under scrutiny for boosting what's known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund by almost $100 billion, bringing it to $165 billion.

The account, which was initially meant to be used for temporary expenses, has increasingly become a way to fund certain defense programs since it is not subject to the statutory spending caps created by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Congressional Democrats criticized the administration for using the account to skirt budget caps and avoid having to strike a bipartisan deal with lawmakers to raise non-defense spending.

"The use of a massive budgetary gimmick to hide the true cost of this defense spending request should outrage everyone who claims to care about fiscal responsibility," House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyHouse reaches deal on continuing resolution, vote expected Thursday On The Money: Fed delivers second rate cut to fend off global risks | Trump says Fed has 'no guts' | House gets deal on continuing resolution | GM faces bipartisan backlash amid strike Congress set to ignore Trump's wall request in stopgap measure MORE (D-N.Y.) said Monday.

Both Democrats and Republicans have referred to the account as a "slush fund," a term used by acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyTrump administration asks Supreme Court to take up challenge to consumer bureau NOAA chief praises agency scientists after statement backing up Trump tweet The Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same MORE when he was a House lawmaker during the Obama administration.

Numbers breakdown: Pentagon officials gave limited details Tuesday for how OCO would be broken out, but said the amount includes several different types of funding. One is a $66.7 billion pot that includes $25.4 billion for direct war requirements, or costs associated with combat or combat support, and $41.3 billion for enduring requirements that have not yet moved to the base budget.

"These are costs for our posture and presence in the Middle East, Africa, and the Philippines, along with the European Deterrence Initiative. Taken together, these two bins are consistent with the FY '19 enacted OCO level," McCusker said.

A third bin of $97.9 billion would be for base requirements, "which supports things like munitions, base operations support, weapons systems sustainment and maintenance, and other readiness efforts that have been funded in part in OCO in the past."

Separately, another $9.2 billion would go toward emergency funding for military construction to support hurricane recovery and "continued commitment to the southwest border," she added.

Broken down further, the $9.2 billion in emergency funding includes $2 billion for hurricane relief and recovery efforts, $3.6 billion for potential new construction projects at the U.S.-Mexico border and $3.6 billion to fill the gaps in any military construction projects where money is taken to help build President Trump's border wall.

  

ARMED SERVICES CHAIR PLOTS MOVE TO 'KILL' TRUMP PLAN FOR LOW-YIELD NUKE: The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Tuesday he plans to try to block funding for President Trump's low-yield nuclear weapon program as part of this year's defense policy bill.

"I would like to kill the low-yield nuclear weapon, I don't think it's a good idea, and we're going to try to do that," Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithBeto needs to revive talk about his 'war tax' proposal House rejects GOP motion on replacing Pentagon funding used on border wall Iran talks unlikely despite window of opportunity MORE (D-Wash.) said at the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference.

Still, acknowledging that Republicans control the Senate and Trump ultimately has to sign the defense bill, Smith said, "many others disagree with me on that, and we'll see how that plays out."

Clear plans: Smith has opposed Trump's efforts to build a so-called low yield nuclear warhead since it was first announced as part of the administration's Nuclear Policy Review last year, but his comments Tuesday were his clearest yet about his plans now that he is chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

The administration started production on the first unit of the warheads, dubbed W76-2s, in January. Trump's budget blueprint for fiscal 2020, released Monday, "completes development and production of the W76-2 warhead."

The White House's argument: The Trump administration argues a low-yield warhead is necessary to deter Russia. Moscow might miscalculate that the United States would be unwilling to use its current nuclear weapons in response to a Russian low-yield nuclear strike because the U.S. yield is too high, they figure.

Smith's reasoning: "The argument is ... 'Well, if the Russians have a low-yield nuclear weapon, and they launch a nuclear weapon at us, and we don't have anything but a bigger nuclear weapon, well then, what can we do?'" Smith said. "We launch the bigger nuclear weapon is what we do. That's the deterrent."

Smith also indicated he would like to change language that has been in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for years that prohibits military-to-military cooperation between the United States and Russia.

The language was first added to the bill after Russia annexed Crimea in a move considered illegal by the international community.

But Smith expressed concern that the provision is preventing communication to avoid a "Dr. Strangelove"-type scenario.

Size matters: Smith has also questioned the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. On Tuesday, he said he was not sure if the best way to reduce the number of U.S. nuclear weapons is by getting rid of a leg of the triad or reducing the number of warheads in each leg. The triad refers to the three means of delivering nuclear weapons.

Challenges await: Smith, though, acknowledged the difficulty of getting cuts through Congress.

"At the end of the day, I know we have to pass the bill, and we're going to work together to get it. But I want to spur the conversation, and hopefully get a more efficient, more effective Pentagon where it really matters where you spend the money," he said.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Top military leaders including Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, and Undersecretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, will speak at the McAleese/Credit Suisse 10th Annual FY2020 "Defense Programs" Conference beginning at 7 a.m. in Washington, D.C.

The House Armed Services Committee will hear from U.S. European and Supreme NATO Commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti and Kathryn Wheelbarger, acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, on "National Security Challenges and U.S. Military Activities in Europe," at 10 a.m. in Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118.

Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid will speak at the Brookings Institution on "Estonia in an Evolving Europe" at 10 am in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant Cotton2020 Democrats raise alarm about China's intellectual property theft Bolton returns to political group after exiting administration Meadows, Cotton introduce bill to prevent district judges from blocking federal policy changes MORE (R-Ark.) will deliver keynote remarks on "The Indo-Pacific after INF," at 11:30 a.m. at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthDemocrats ignore Asian American and Pacific Islander voters at their peril Republicans grumble over Trump shifting military funds to wall Lawmakers mark anniversary of Martin Luther King 'I have a dream' speech MORE (D-Ill.), will deliver remarks on maintaining America's military preeminence at 12 p.m. at the National Press Club in Washington D.C.

A House Armed Services subcommittee will hear from outside experts on "Ensuring resiliency of military installations and operations in response to climate changes," at 2 p.m. at Rayburn 2212. 

Another House Armed Services panel will hear from defense officials on U.S. Cyber Command and operations in cyberspace at 2 p.m. in Rayburn 2118.

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Top Republican says $7B in Pentagon budget for wall should go to defense 

--The Hill: Democratic appropriators demand list of military projects that would be defunded for wall

-- The Hill: House passes series of measures hitting Russia, Putin

-- The Hill: US pulls last embassy personnel from Venezuela

-- The Hill: Bolton: Pakistan committed to de-escalating tensions with India

-- The Hill: Opinion: Going to 'battle' for our veterans is a promise kept

-- Defense News: Despite push for future tech, munitions remain major wedge in budget

-- Reuters: Hundreds surrender as Islamic State nears defeat in last enclave