Carter Cites Do-It-All Pressure on $583 Billion Defense Plan

  • Defense chief notes threats from Russia, China, Iran, N. Korea
  • Guarding military networks is a priority, he says in interview

The Pentagon’s proposed $583 billion budget for the coming year was shaped by the need to act on many fronts, from countering advances in Russian and Chinese military capabilities to defeating Islamic State and improving cybersecurity, Defense Secretary Ash Carter says.

“What this budget stresses is we need to do it all,” Carter said in an interview before Tuesday’s release of President Barack Obama’s final budget plan. “We need to improve our capabilities to stay ahead of Russia, China, counter Iran’s malign influence” plus “we can never take our eyes off the Korean Peninsula,” especially after the latest satellite launch by the regime in Pyongyang.

Carter cited that menu of global threats in renewing his plea for permanent relief from budget caps that have constrained defense spending. After the budget deal that provides some leeway for defense spending over the next two years, the caps are scheduled to return through fiscal 2021.

“We have multiple problems and challenges and we have to deal with them all -- we cannot choose -- and that is why it’s so important that in our budget we put ample resources behind all those challenges,” Carter said.

Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the budget for next year isn’t enough. “We just had attacks and there will be attacks on the United States of America,” the Arizona Republican, who called for spending at least $17 billion more, told reporters at the Capitol. “Only this president and secretary of defense could think we’re doing business as usual.”

The Pentagon’s five-year plan for the Air Force outlines significant increases. It would provide $3 billion for Boeing Co.’s KC-46 tanker next year and $16.2 billion through 2021. It also calls for $351.2 million next year for a program to replace the planes outfitted for the president, known as Air Force One when the commander-in-chief is onboard, and $2.78 billion through 2021.

Proposed spending on a new long-range strike bomber would increase to $1.36 billion next year from $736.2 million this year and would total $12.1 billion through 2021. That’s down about $3.5 billion from the previous five-year plan, which extended through 2020, because the service incorporated reduced costs from a new independent estimate, said Major Melissa Milner, an Air Force spokeswoman. The service also plans to spend $2.2 billion through 2021 replacing its Joint Stars surveillance aircraft.

Islamic State

Included in the $59 billion war-fighting budget is $7.5 billion for countering Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. But “if you are counting counterterrorism broadly,” add funds for the war in Afghanistan “and a considerable part” of the budgets for U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Africa Command, Carter said.

The war-fighting account also would provide $41.7 billion for Afghanistan, $3.4 billion for the European Reassurance Initiative to counter Russia’s aggressive moves and $1 billion for a counterterrorism partnership fund.

There’s always debate about the separate fund for war-fighting, known as the Overseas Contingency Operations Account, which critics say is stuffed with procurement items that should be in the regular defense budget.

This time, that may include $185 million to buy two Boeing Super Hornets to “replace combat losses,” $300 million to buy Oshkosh Corp. medium tactical trucks and $125 million to support the Paladin self-propelled howitzer from BAE Systems Plc.

Carter says the amounts for both the basic defense budget and the war-fighting fund are mandated under the two-year budget deal. But Representative Mac Thornberry of Texas, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, says the amount for war-fighting is a floor, not a ceiling, and he’ll push for more money.

Defending Networks

On cybersecurity, Carter said “the highest priority is to defend our own networks,” so “a good deal of the resources go to that mission.”

Carter said the fiscal 2017 budget emphasizes improving the Navy’s underwater capabilities against not only Russian and Chinese advances but also Iranian and North Korean submarine forces. The goal is to keep U.S. superiority intact, with $40 billion designated through 2021, including $8.1 next year.

“Obviously the most challenging of those is Russia and probably second China, but that’s an area of a great strength of the United States so it’s important to build on that,” Carter said.

The Russians “are striving to catch up” and “we are determined to make sure they can’t,” he said. “Russia has the most capable undersea force.”

Other significant items in the proposed budget include:

  • $6.7 billion for cyber capabilities, up $870 million from the amount enacted this year.
  • $10.1 billion for 63 F-35 jets made by Lockheed Martin Corp., or three less than previously planned.
  • The first year of major spending on a replacement for aging Ohio-class submarines. The budget calls for $1.9 billion in fiscal 2017, and a total of $13.2 billion through 2021.
  • $341 million to accelerate purchases of the first 30 new long-range anti-ship missiles from Lockheed.
  • Funds to replenish smart bombs used against Islamic State. That includes $779 million for 33,443 GPS-guidance kits for smart bombs made by Boeing; $423 million for 4,507 Small Diameter Bombs from Boeing and Raytheon Co.; and $685 million for 5,846 Lockheed Hellfire missiles.
  • $2.8 billion to buy Predator and Reaper drones from General Atomicsthat would expand the number of daily orbits worldwide to 90 by 2020 from about 70 today.
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