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Pacific shift: $527B request includes less for Army, more for AF

Apr. 13, 2013 - 02:35PM   |  
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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s $527 billion fiscal 2014 budget request further deepens the Obama administration’s focus on the Asia-Pacific, better aligning funds with the military services expecting to play major roles in that region.

It continues investments in advanced stealth aircraft, such as -35 joint strike fighters and new bombers. These planes play a key role in the Defense Department’s ability to operate in denied airspace. Another aircraft crucial to the expansive Pacific region is a new aerial refueling tanker, the Boeing KC-46A.

“It looks like 2014 was the first year that they really had incorporated that new strategic guidance from the beginning of their budget build,” said Todd Harrison, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments think tank. “I would expect to see more movement like this in 2015.”

The Pentagon’s 2014 budget request seeks $99.3 billion for procurement of new weapons and $67.5 billion for research-and-development projects.

While budgets are often measured against previous years to illustrate changes and show trends, comparisons with the current budget are difficult for several reasons.

Last year, DoD submitted a $525 billion fiscal 2013 budget request to Congress. After more than a year of unprecedented budget negotiations, lawmakers last month passed a $529 billion 2013 defense spending bill through a continuing resolution.

However, after federal spending caps due to sequestration are applied, DoD received only $493 billion.

The 2014 request increases funding for the Air Force, decreasing funds for the Army, and keeps Navy funding relatively flat, which experts say is a sign of increased focus on the Pacific.

“It’s what you would expect with a focus on the Pacific and a greater emphasis on air power and sea power and less of an emphasis on conducting two simultaneous major ground wars,” Harrison said.

The Army slice of DoD’s 2014 request is $129.7 billion. Congress appropriated $131.9 billion for the Army in 2013. However, after sequestration is applied, the service received $125.1 billion.

DoD proposed $155.8 billion for the Navy in 2014. Congress appropriated $158.9 billion for the Navy in 2013, but sequestration limits the service’s top line to $148.9 billion.

The Air Force’s proposed 2014 budget is $144.4 billion. Congress appropriated $139.8 billion in 2013, but sequestration caps service spending at $130.1 billion.

Complicating matters, DoD is preparing a major reprogramming action, which will shift billions of dollars around budget accounts for the remainder of fiscal 2013.

Robert Hale, the Pentagon’s comptroller, said April 10 that the reprogramming will address war funding shortfalls.

No War Budget Yet

DoD did not include a spending request for the war in Afghanistan. However, it included an $88.5 billion “placeholder.” DoD requested, and Congress appropriated, $88.5 billion for war-related operations in 2013. However, after sequestration, funding was reduced to about $81 billion.

Hale said the Pentagon plans to send a war request to lawmakers “within a month.”

But despite the drawdown in Afghanistan, Hale said the war funding request is not expected to drastically decline.

The Pentagon’s 2013 war request assumed 68,000 troops in Afghanistan. Hale said the 2014 request will assume 34,000 troops through September 2014.

“I think [the request will] be lower [than 2013], although not dramatically lower, because there are so many other things going on,” Hale said.

In Afghanistan, DoD spends an average of $1.2 million per year for each service member on the ground, Harrison said. The figure has remained throughout the conflict, even throughout troop and fighting surges. Harrison said that makes him suspicious of DoD’s higher spending projections.

“It makes me wonder if they’re padding it with stuff, if they’re loading in peacetime readiness costs, if they’re loading in personnel costs,” he said.

DoD officials say they are burning through war funding at a higher-than-expected rate this year due to increased operational tempo and costs associated with removing equipment from Afghanistan.

In addition to actual operations, the Pentagon has used war funding to reset equipment, once it returns stateside.

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