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Obama's Defense Budget Shifts Focus to Countering Terrorism, Iran Nukes

By Stephanie Gaskell and Kevin Baron

Defense One

Yemeni policemen stand guard outside the central prison last month in the capital, Sanaa, a day after a deadly assault during which 29 inmates, including 19 suspected al-Qaida members, broke out of jail. The Pentagon's fiscal 2015 budget request shifts focus more toward countering global terrorism. Yemeni policemen stand guard outside the central prison last month in the capital, Sanaa, a day after a deadly assault during which 29 inmates, including 19 suspected al-Qaida members, broke out of jail. The Pentagon's fiscal 2015 budget request shifts focus more toward countering global terrorism. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)

President Obama released a fiscal 2015 defense budget request on Tuesday that reorients the focus more toward countering terrorism and a potential Iran threat.

The budget calls for $495.6 billion for the nation’s military -- just $4 billion less than fiscal 2014 enacted levels, and still below the $496 billion cap set by Congress under the Bipartisan Budget Act. Obama’s budget cuts the size of the military’s ranks and cuts into most major weapons buying accounts, as expected, in exchange for, the Pentagon argues, maintaining technological advances and as much training and so-called “readiness” as possible to allow the Pentagon to respond to unexpected conflicts.

Much of the president’s defense spending intentions were revealed last week in a preview of the request given by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Obama’s plans quickly ran into a partisan wall from lawmakers either praising the request as a sensible post-war budget or a criticizing it as a short-sighted overreaction to war weariness. The Pentagon’s annual five-year budget plans for years have been pitched as a post-war shift of the United States’ focus away from counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq to check the spread of global terrorism, China’s rising strategic interests and Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Instead, the 2015 request comes during a sudden resurgence of Cold War geopolitics, with Western powers embroiled in a standoff over Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, where Secretary of State John Kerry is currently visiting.

Back at the Pentagon, despite immediate events, Obama’s budget reflects a military that continues “rebalancing” after more than a decade of war while facing continued reductions of about $50 billion a year under sequestration. The president is also planning to create a $58 billion “Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative” that will be paid for by “a balanced package of spending and tax reforms.” Of that, $26 billion would go to the Pentagon.

“The president’s budget provides a balanced and responsible path forward given continuing fiscal uncertainty. It reflects the strict constraints on discretionary funding required by the Bipartisan Budget Act in FY 2015, but it does not accept sequestration levels thereafter, funding the department at about $115 billion more than projected sequestration levels through 2019,” Defense officials said in budget documents.

Pentagon officials argue that the budget request creates a “balanced” force that is “smaller, more agile, flexible” --  terms that Joint Chiefs members have used for several years. They claim that this spending request “will allow the military to protect and advance U.S. interests … but with somewhat increased levels of risk for some missions.” The risk, they say, is in reduced training time for troops in the short term, and reduced ability to adapt to unexpected conflict for the Pentagon in the long term.

The fiscal 2015 budget reduces the size of the Army to somewhere between 440,000 and 450,000 soldiers. The Marines will drop to 182,000. The Navy will maintain 11 carrier strike groups, but plans for anything beyond 32 littoral combat ships will be put on hold. The Air Force will continues plans to build a new bomber, refueling tanker and the F-35, but the A-10 close combat fleet will be retired. The U-2 bomber will be replaced with the unmanned Global Hawk system, and the Predator and Reaper drone fleet would grow by 55, down from a planned 65. Additionally, the Pentagon plans fewer purchases of C-130 cargo planes, V-22 Osprey aircraft, Apache and Chinook helicopters and P-8 Poseidon aircraft. As was announced last week, the Pentagon plans to divest the Kiowa Warrior helicopter, which was a familiar low-altitude friend to Iraq combat veterans, and replace them with Apache helicopters and drones shifted over from the National Guard and Reserve.

The budget allows for a 1 percent pay increase for fiscal 2015, but freezes pay for general and flag officers. Housing allowances will slow until they reach a 5 percent out-of-pocket contribution. Subsidies for military commissaries will be reduced by $1 billion and TRICARE co-pays will increase.

Defense officials said the budget is in line with the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, also released Tuesday, which outlines the military’s strategy.

Reprinted with permission from Defense One. The original story can be found here.

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