Trump Pentagon Budget Adds Ship, No Planes, to Obama Plan, Officials Say

  • $603 billion plan would add a destroyer, Tomahawks: officials
  • Officials say F-35s, Super Hornets wouldn’t increase from plan

President Donald Trump is expected to propose a $603 billion defense budget for the year beginning Oct. 1 that would add one warship but no more F-35 and Super Hornet jets than the Obama administration had projected, according to officials.

The proposal sticks with President Barack Obama’s plan to request 70 of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35’s and 14 of Boeing Co.’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, said the officials, who discussed the budget proposal due to be sent to Congress on May 23. The officials asked not to be identified discussing the defense budget before it’s made public and cautioned that some details may still change.

While the Obama administration had anticipated buying eight ships in the coming year, Trump’s budget would ask Congress to pay for nine, adding one DDG-51 Flight III destroyer built by General Dynamics Corp. and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. It also would buy enough Tomahawk cruise missiles made by Raytheon Corp. to keep the company’s Tucson, Arizona, plant in operation.

The fiscal 2018 proposal is something of a placeholder until the Pentagon completes a new National Defense Strategy that Defense Secretary James Mattis commissioned on February 1. It also doesn’t reflect results of a pending review that Mattis requested in January -- in response to a Twitter posting by Trump -- to evaluate the cost and operational advantages of buying improved F/A-18E/F jets over the F-35C model designed for use on aircraft carriers, the officials said.

The decisions from those reviews will be reflected in a five-year plan for fiscal 2019-2023.

‘Paper Buildup’

The proposed fiscal 2018 budget is about $18.5 billion, or 3.2 percent, larger than the comparable plan left by the Obama administration for fiscal 2018, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

“With just $18 billion in new spending penciled in,” the Trump administration “is going to be pitching a paper buildup to the Congress,” Katherine Blakeley, budget analyst for the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said in an email.

Republican Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticized an earlier outline of the defense budget plan as insufficient and vowed to push for more.

The $603 billion includes funding for defense-related spending by the Energy and Justice departments. The Pentagon-only defense request is $574 billion, or about $17 billion more than the Obama administration planned for the year.

In guidance in January, Mattis said the fiscal 2018 proposal would focus on rebuilding readiness, such as “buying more critical munitions” and funding facilities maintenance “at a higher rate” and “growing force structure at the maximum responsible rate.”

Precision-Guided Munitions

The plan to buy more Tomahawks is in line with that guidance. Raytheon has said it would need to produce 196 of the cruise missiles annually to keep the Arizona assembly line open. Obama’s final defense budget ended Tomahawk production in favor of upgrading existing missiles and focusing on the next versions of long-range strike weapons.

The Trump budget also would add funds to buy more precision-guided munitions from Lockheed, Boeing and Raytheon to be used in the fight against Islamic State terrorists. The U.S.-led coalition dropped 3,878 munitions in March, the most since the operation began in August 2014.

The budget request’s addition of one newer model Flight III destroyer falls short of the accelerated shipbuilding pace the Navy has said is needed to reach a fleet of about 350 ships, up from about 275 deployable today -- a goal endorsed by Trump during the campaign.

In a February 9 white paper to Mattis, the Navy said it needs 29 vessels over those currently planned through 2021 to accelerate past the Obama administration plan of a 305-vessel fleet. The service had called for 12 vessels in fiscal 2018 instead of the nine being proposed.

Read why the naval chief says more ships are needed to stay credible

The $603 billion defense request is about $54 billion over spending caps established in the 2011 Budget Control Act. It proposes equivalent cuts in discretionary domestic spending to pay for the defense increase, an approach that congressional Democrats have vowed to fight.

Trump’s proposals for major cuts in domestic spending reflect priorities that “aren’t necessarily ours,” and he can expect a Republican-led Senate to make changes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in an interview Tuesday with Bloomberg News.

“It will be a process of negotiation,” the Kentucky Republican said. “We haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to any president’s budget since I’ve been here.”**

While Trump has said his proposal will be one of the largest increases in history, “in seven of the past 40 years the budget increased by a larger amount year-over-year, and that is excluding war-related increases,” Todd Harrison, a defense analyst with the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in an email. “It comes on top of a budget that was already at a fairly high level by historical terms.”

“What he should be bragging about instead is that his budget would exceed the peak of the Reagan buildup even when adjusted for inflation,” Harrison said.

— With assistance by Laura Litvan

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