CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS DEFENSE April 3, 2009 – 2:02 p.m.by Josh Rogin, CQ Staff
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates plans to brief congressional leaders and announce Monday a “fundamental shift” in defense spending and priorities, his spokesman said Friday.
The fiscal 2010 funding choices in the announcement will represent the first major defense policy decisions of President Obama’s administration. Specific details of the budget are not expected until the first week of May, but Gates will make the unusual move of announcing several major program decisions weeks ahead of the budget release, according to the spokesman.
“These are not changes to the margins. This is a fundamental shift in direction,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. “And the secretary’s point of view argues for an unconventional approach in explaining that shift to the American people.”
Morrell said that Gates would finalize the decisions over the weekend and brief congressional leaders Monday morning. A press conference will follow.
“The fact of life is that since September 11, 2001, the military has been engaged in irregular warfare activities that require more of our focus, more of our energy, and more of our resources than we have been dedicating to them,” Morrell said. “So Gates is trying to shift between the large scale conventional near peer conflicts that we have to prepare for down the line and the very real conflicts we are engaged in now.”
The timing of the announcement allows Gates to present the strategic rationale for the decisions at once, rather than having individuals criticize the decisions piecemeal as they leak out.
“Gates’ hope is that by revealing it all at once and by explaining it in depth and explaining the strategic rationale for all of these decisions, that people will view it as a whole and not get focused on the individual decisions and not let their parochial interests overcome the fact that it is in our national interests to make these adjustments to the whole of the budget,” Morrell said.
Although Gates repeatedly has warned that no final decisions have been made about specific program cuts, defense officials have noted that some are at serious risk — particularly those that are poor performers or cannot be connected with a current threat.
The programs that many expect to face huge cuts or cancellation include the Army’s Future Combat Systems program; the Transformational Communications Satellite program; the Navy’s DDG-1000 destroyer program; and the VH-71 presidential helicopter program. Some cuts or procurement delays are also expected for the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft program.
Ballistic missile defense, which represents the Pentagon’s largest acquisitions program, also could be on the chopping block. Futuristic missile defense components are at particular risk, including the Airborne Laser Program, the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, the Space Based Interceptor, along with plans to begin construction on two missile defense sites in Eastern Europe.
Many observers on Capitol Hill are also anxiously awaiting what Gates might say about the fate of the Pentagon’s troubled effort to buy a new fleet of aerial refueling tankers, whether or not the new administration wants to build a new bomber aircraft, and whether the president wants to continue buying F-22 Raptor fighters.
Sources said that the president wants to cap the number of F-22s at around 250, which would ensure three more years of production after the current limit of 183 planes is reached this year.
According to a blueprint released in February, Obama will ask for $533.7 billion in discretionary spending in fiscal 2010. That number is $20.4 billion, or about 4 percent, higher than the $513.3 billion appropriated in fiscal 2009.
For fiscal 2010 war funding, the administration will request $130 billion at the same time the base budget request is made.
Next week, the president will also send to Congress a request for a second tranche of fiscal 2009 war funding, which will include $75.5 billion for the Defense Department and about $7.1 billion for the State Department and foreign operations.
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