Obama’s Defense Budget Is on Target

The $534 billion the president proposed for defense spending is adequate to maintain troop quality and infrastructure, and modernize the force, writes Lawrence Korb.

The military currently has 183 F-22 Raptors. Here, two of them fly over Denali in Alaska. (AP/Mark Farmer)
The military currently has 183 F-22 Raptors. Here, two of them fly over Denali in Alaska. (AP/Mark Farmer)

Specific budget recommendations

President Barack Obama’s topline budget projections for fiscal year 2010 allocate $534 billion to the Department of Defense, the largest allocation of any department. The amount represents roughly a 4-percent increase over the $513 billion allocated to the Pentagon in FY2009 under the Bush administration, and $6.7 billion more than the outgoing administration’s projections for FY 2010.

Supporters of a vastly increased defense budget, including many who support the Pentagon’s internal request for $584 billion for FY2010, have argued that Obama’s baseline represents a budget cut in a time of war. They contend that this so-called reduction will unnerve our allies, embolden our enemies and, by ending programs like the F-22 Raptor and slowing down programs like the F-35 and Future Combat Systems, will not only weaken defense but hurt our economy. Objective analysis reveals that these arguments are without merit.

The defense budget has nearly doubled in real terms in the last decade, and this year’s $534 billion baseline provides adequate funding to maintain the quality of our troops and military infrastructure, and modernize the force. This amount does not in any way undermine the war effort, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are financed in separate supplementals, which to date total nearly $1 trillion. Obama has promised $130 billion more for these efforts in FY2010.

Nor will this level of funding unnerve our allies or embolden our enemies. Adding the supplementals for the war to the regular budget will bring total defense spending to about $700 billion for FY2010, more in real terms than at anytime since World War II, and more than what the rest of the world combined spends on defense.

The FY2010 budget offers two necessary changes from past Bush administration budgets. First, Obama will reportedly hold the defense budget flat at FY2010 levels over the next 10 years, adjusting only for inflation. The Center for American Progress made a similar recommendation in “Building a Military for the 21st Century: New Realities, New Priorities,” which in December 2008 argued that the current sum of $534 billion:

“If used wisely, is more than enough to ensure American military predominance while recapitalizing equipment lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, and growing and modernizing the force. The next administration should therefore keep the defense budget flat over the next four years, adjusting for inflation and fluctuations in the U.S. dollar.”

Second, after over seven years of war in Afghanistan and nearly six years in Iraq, the Obama administration’s budget will include the cost of the two wars for the first time. Under the Bush administration, the cost of the wars—currently totaling $657 billion for Iraq and $173 billion for Afghanistan[1]—was appropriated through emergency supplementals, a process that allowed the services to take advantage of war-funding bills to request money for significant non-war-related projects, such as additional F-22 Raptors, that should have been included in the DOD’s baseline budget. CAP advocated reforming the process:

“DOD should in the future submit appropriations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with the baseline request in one consolidated budget. This procedure will allow lawmakers to scrutinize the items from the supplemental and force Congress and DOD leaders to make trade-offs and hard choices when considering the FY2010-13 defense budget priorities.”

The Center for American Progress is encouraged that the Obama administration has adopted a similar stance.

While the budget released today does not offer specific details on allocations to the services or funding cuts for particular acquisition programs, it will require the services to match resources to priorities. The DOD should scale back purchases of weapons systems designed for conventional warfare and reorient the force based on the need for greater irregular capabilities. Eliminating weapons systems designed to deal with threats from a bygone era—weapons and programs that are not useful in defending our country from violent extremists or the other threats we now face—will save billions of dollars for American taxpayers.

[1] These sums cover all war-related appropriations from FY2001 through part of FY2009 in supplementals, regular appropriations, and continuing resolutions. Current funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is expected to last through mid-summer 2009. The administration is expected to seek $75.5 billion in supplemental funding to cover war operations for the rest of 2009.

Budget recommendations to keep the defense budget level in real terms

Ground forces recommendations (Army, Marines)

  • Continue increasing the size of U.S. ground forces without lowering standards. Enlarging the recruiting pool by dropping the ban on women serving in ground combat units and repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law will facilitate this growth.
  • Slow down Future Combat Systems and cut the program’s procurement, research, and design budgets by a third over the next four years.
  • Move forward slowly on the Brigade Combat Team model, but carefully
  • Review the operations of the Maneuver Enhancement Brigades and determine whether more are needed.
  • Maintain funding for the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle at the current level, allowing for development and testing, but delay production in favor of purchasing M-ATV armored vehicles for Afghanistan.

Naval forces recommendations

  • Cancel the Zumwalt-class DDG-1000 destroyer and build two Arleigh Burke-class DDG-51 destroyers a year for the next four years.
  • Keep SSN-774 attack submarine production steady at one per year instead of ramping up to two per year in FY 2013.
  • Move forward with current plans for the Littoral Combat Ship.
  • Deploy the Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) aircraft carrier but delay the construction of the CVN-79 aircraft carrier for five years.
  • Cancel the LPD-26 amphibious ship and move forward with the Maritime Prepositioning Force (Future).

Air forces recommendations (Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines)

  • End production of the F-22 Raptor immediately at 183 planes.
  • Continue development of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, but do not start full-scale production until flight tests have been completed.
  • Buy F-16 Block 60 fighters, two wings of MQ-9 Reaper drones, and 69 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to make up for the anticipated gap in fighter aircraft.
  • Cancel the MV-22 Osprey and substitute cheaper helicopters while continuing production of the CV-22.
  • Build more C-17 cargo aircraft.
  • Move forward on the KC-X.
  • Substitute MQ-1C Warrior drones for Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters.
  • Move forward on the new long-range bomber.

Missile defense recommendations

  • Cancel unproven missile defense programs.
  • Halt deployment of the ground-based missile defense system until it has proven itself in realistic operational tests.
  • Continue work and testing on lower-risk missile defense systems.
  • Stop deployment of the missiles and radars in Poland and the Czech Republic until the system has been adequately tested.

Read more from CAP on a 21st-century military and defense budget

Interactive: Design Your Own Defense Budget

Report: Building a Military for the 21st Century: New Realities, New Priorities

More on President Obama’s budget blueprint:

Overview: A New, Ambitious Course of Action, by Michael Ettlinger

Energy: Energy Budget Is Sunlight After Eight Years of Darkness, by Daniel J. Weiss

Education: Investing Wisely in Our Children, Cynthia G. Brown and Melissa Lazarín

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Lawrence J. Korb

Senior Fellow