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Hagel: Budget gives military flexibility for Korea

Apr. 10, 2013 - 12:49PM   |  
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Key points in the budget

* $8.5 billion is allocated for F-35 fighter jets.

* There is more funding to build Stryker combat vehicles with double-V hulls to protect troops from roadside bombs, which indicates that the Pentagon believes improvised explosive devices (IEDs) will remain an enduring threat. The administration proposes to increase spending to $374 million from $317 million in the current budget.

* The venerable U-2 spy plane, which has been on the chopping block for years, will continue to fly high over hot spots such as North Korea. The plane had been scheduled to be replaced by the Global Hawk drone, and some limitations with that aircraft mean U-2s will live on.

* Troops will receive a 1 percent pay raise.

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel released a $526 billion Pentagon budget Wednesday amid a climate of fiscal uncertainty, but he said the United States was prepared to respond if a conflict breaks out on the Korean Peninsula where tensions are running high.

"Our country is fully prepared to deal with any contingency, any action that North Korea may take or any provocation that they may instigate," Hagel said at a news conference releasing the Pentagon's 2014 budget.

North Korea has escalated threats in recent weeks, raising concerns that a provocative act or miscalculation could trigger a conflict. The latest alarm came as South Korea said its neighbor to the north was preparing for a mid-range missile test.

The Pentagon's budget forecasts a .7 percent decrease in spending over this year, but efforts to plan for the future have been overshadowed by automatic spending cuts eating into the readiness of the armed forces this year.

"We are living in a world of complete uncertainty," Hagel said.

Pentagon officials want to protect the readiness of troops who would have to respond to a contingency in Korea and of troops in Afghanistan or preparing to deploy there.

Other units will see a reduction in readiness as pilots fly fewer hours and the Navy scales back on deployments, Hagel said.

The Pentagon's budget offers a clearer picture of the administration's strategy as it withdraws forces from Afghanistan and beefs up its presence in Asia.

The Marine Corps is moving from its role fighting land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan back to an expeditionary force with a significant presence in Asia. The budget provides money to support up to four Navy Littoral Combat ships that would rotate through Singapore.

The Air Force plans to spend $400 million in 2014 developing long-range bombers suitable for operating over Asia.
The budget reflects a growing concern over the threat from cyber-attacks, increasing the money for cyber-warfare to $4.7 billion from $3.9 billion. Recently, South Korea accused the North of launching an attack aimed at banks and television stations in the South.

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More broadly, the Pentagon is moving away from the emphasis on counterinsurgency warfare that characterized fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade.

The Pentagon is shifting the training and organization of its forces toward "full spectrum" operations, which includes a greater emphasis on conventional combat involving the coordination of tanks, artillery and air support.

The budget was based on an assumption that the White House and Congress agree to a deficit reduction plan that eliminates automatic cuts known as the sequester. That has led some analysts to question the budget's validity. "That's not a safe assumption," said Todd Harrison, a budget expert at the non-partisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

The defense budget is more than $50 billion over the cap set by the Budget Control Act. That means when the spending plan goes into effect Oct. 1, it will have to be cut automatically unless a deficit-reduction plan is reached or savings elsewhere in the federal budget can be shifted to the Pentagon.

Neither option is likely, Harrison says. More likely is that the military will scramble again to make cuts, once again furloughing civilian employees -- or laying them off permanently. Another option, being used to meet sequestration requirements, is to cut training. That reduces the military's readiness to fight wars, Harrison said.

Reducing the ranks of the military further might be considered, but it wouldn't generate instant savings, he said, as troops can't be cut loose on a moment's notice.

Peter Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution, said troop levels could decrease ultimately to pre-9/11 levels.

The budget continues the military's shift from ground-troop intensive fights in the Middle East to the Pacific region, which includes the nettlesome problem of North Korea.

"This budget continues to balance the compelling needs of supporting troops at war in Afghanistan, implementing the president's defense strategic guidance and sustaining the quality of the all-volunteer force — all while ensuring we maximize the use of every taxpayer dollar and address internal imbalances within the DOD budget," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement.

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