Pentagon cutting new arms to save $60 billion

WASHINGTON, D.C., 31 December 2004. The Pentagon plans to retire one of the navy's 12 aircraft carriers, buy fewer amphibious landing ships for the Marine Corps and delay the development of a costly army combat system as part of $60 billion in proposed cuts over the next six years, according to defense and congressional officials.

The proposed reductions require congressional approval. They result from White House orders to all federal agencies to cut their spending requests for the 2006 fiscal year budgets.

Since the November elections, the White House has been under growing pressure to offset mounting deficits and at the same time pay for the unexpectedly high costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which combined now amount to more than $5 billion a month.

The proposed Pentagon cuts, which include sharply reducing the air force's F/A-22 fighter program and delaying the purchase of a new navy destroyer, would for the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that the growth in Pentagon spending has slowed. It has risen 41 percent in that period, to about $425 billion this year.

Defense and congressional officials said on Wednesday that the Pentagon was looking to trim up to $10 billion in the 2006 budget alone.

The budget-cutting is likely to foreshadow additional reductions of weapons designed in the Cold War and the revamping of America's arsenal as the Pentagon prepares for its quadrennial review of military weapons and equipment to address current and long-term security threats.

"The services are making decisions about where to make their investments," said a Pentagon spokesman, Eric Ruff, who declined to comment on specific proposed cuts. "As we look ahead to the challenges of the 21st century, it's fair that we look at programs that began two or three decades ago."

One of the winners from this round of budget work is likely to be the army, some military budget analysts and Pentagon officials said. While the other armed services have been forced to scale back their weapons modernization plans, the army is spending billions of dollars a year to add as many as 15 brigades in the next several years.

"It doesn't matter if you can win a war 20 years from now if we lose the global war on terror next year," said one defense official, who favors increasing spending for the army to help battle the Iraq insurgency but spoke on condition of anonymity because the details of the budget are not completed.

Mounting deficits and the growing cost of keeping more than 150,000 American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq the past year have forced the White House and the Pentagon to look at cuts. The war costs have so far been paid by supplemental appropriations, and the Pentagon is preparing another such request of about $80 billion early next year.

"The guidance the secretary is receiving is for the department to bear its share of cuts necessary to help work down deficits, and at the same time have adequate funds for the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to refurbish the army," said Senator John Warner, Republican of Virginia, who is chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

Warner said in a telephone interview that he had a long conversation about the budget with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last week. At a time when the army and Marine Corps are stretched thin, cutting force levels was out of the question, as was reducing operating costs. The Pentagon's new weapons budget, now about $78 billion a year, became the immediate target, although much of the savings cannot be realized for several years because of how the programs' development and production costs are spread out.

The navy takes some of the most prominent hits, in large part, navy officials and independent budget analysts said, because the service has created efficiencies in its operations that allow for reductions in forces and ships.

By Eric Schmitt, The New York Times


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