Sat, Feb 04, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Bush seeks 5% rise in defense budget

DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD The Pentagon wants to be able to fight terrorists as well as expand its capability to engage in conventional warfare with more jets and ships


President George W. Bush's 2007 budget seeks a nearly 5 percent increase in Defense Department spending, to US$439.3 billion, with significantly more money for fighter jets, ships and Army weapons programs, according to senior Pentagon officials and documents obtained by AP.

The budget figures, to be unveiled next week, come as the Pentagon prepares to release a separate long-range strategy to reshape the military into a more agile fighting force better able to fight terrorism, while still preserving its ability to wage large conventional wars.

More than a year in the making and scheduled to be released yesterday, the strategy review represents the broader thinking that guides how the dollars are spent. It does not call for the elimination of any of the largest weapons programs, as some had expected.

Instead, it proposes cutting some smaller programs such as the E-10 surveillance plane, reducing the size of the Air Force, overhauling the Army National Guard and increasing the number of special operations forces like the Green Berets, whose role in the global war on terrorism is rapidly expanding.

The budget, meanwhile, would include US$84.2 billion for weapons programs, a nearly 8 percent increase, including billions of dollars for fighter jets, Navy ships, helicopters and unmanned aircraft. The total includes a substantial increase in weapons spending for the Army, which would get US$16.8 billion in the 2007 budget, compared with US$11 billion this year.

Senior defense officials provided the totals on condition of anonymity because the defense budget was not being released publicly until Monday. The figures did not include about US$50 billion that Bush administration officials said on Thursday they would request as a down payment for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007. The administration said war costs for 2006 would total US$120 billion.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would not provide any details of the budget on Thursday but called it appropriate.

"We have been able to fund the important things that are needed. It is a sizable amount of money," Rumsfeld said.

The budget proposal represents the fifth consecutive year that spending on weapons has increased, after years of cutbacks during the 1990s.

And it gives a more detailed view of the broader themes in the strategy plan, known as the Quadrennial Defense Review. The themes include how the Pentagon needs to collaborate better with other government agencies in the war on terrorism; that the government must forge closer partnerships with other countries to battle terrorists, and that there must be greater investments in efforts to gather, process and distribute intelligence.

John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank, said he was not troubled by the lack of program cuts in the Rumsfeld plan.

"It's the common parlance in Washington to measure big decisions by how many trophies are hung on the wall, how many dead animals are hung on the wall that you shot and killed," he said.

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