PRESIDENT Bush is set to authorise a huge increase in the Pentagon’s budget which would see US defence spending increase to more than $500 billion (£303 billion) by the end of the decade.
At a time of a ballooning federal deficit and budget cuts across a swath of domestic programmes, Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, has been largely successful in getting a boost for the Pentagon of about $20 billion a year.
The Pentagon has prepared a budget for next year of $399 billion, a 4.4 per cent increase over the present $382.2 billion. It will enable the production of a range of new weaponry, including new warships, unmanned ground and aerial vehicles, missile defence systems and advanced communication satellites.
Steven Kosiak, director of budget studies at the Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, told The Washington Post: “We’ve come to the point where we’re spending more money than we spent during the Cold War. Whether this is sustainable over the next six years is questionable.”
The increase in the defence budget, amid economic uncertainty in America, is a measure of the profound effect the September 11 attacks have had on the Bush Administration’s priorities. Despite cross-party concerns about the economy, particularly with a war in Iraq looming, the full request is likely to be approved by Congress.
A main beneficiary is the Special Operations Command. In the age of a war against terrorism and a perpetual hunt for al-Qaeda operatives, its budget is set to increase from $3 billion to $4.52 billion, which is an increase of more than 47 per cent.
The biggest single increase is directed at the pay of troops, who have been lumbered with an enormous workload since the September 11 attacks. The figure will rise by about $8 billion to $100 billion, with a rise of as much as 6.3 per cent for troops whose skills are in demand.
The shipbuilding budget will increase by $2.7 billion to $12.2 billion. The plan calls for the production of seven new ships, including three destroyers, one attack submarine and one transport ship. The next-generation aircraft carrier, known as the CVN21, would get about $1.5 billion next year.
The Air Force will be the biggest winner. Its budget should climb from $108 billion to $113.7 billion. More than $275 million will be earmarked for the development of a new unmanned bomber by Boeing.
The Pentagon also wants to spend $610 million on new Global Hawk surveillance aircraft and $250 million on Predator spy planes.
The Pentagon pointed out yesterday that as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, defence spending has decreased from 8 per cent in 1960 to 3.4 per cent next year.
Loren Thompson, a defence analyst at the Lexington Institute, which has ties to the Pentagon, said: “It will be difficult to reconcile the Pentagon’s fairly ambitious spending plan, (with) tax cuts . . . if the economy doesn’t grow.”
In another development, congressional investigators said that the contract to build a key weapon for a planned US anti-missile shield was awarded mainly for reasons other than technical merit after the misuse of proprietary information by Boeing employees. Raytheon won the contract in December 1998, after Boeing workers, who had a competing design, came into possession of Raytheon data and improperly used it to study Raytheon’s approach, the General Accounting Office found.
In three out of the eight tests of the ground-based shield so far, the US military has failed to shoot down mock warheads, twice because of separation failures involving the booster rocket and the Raytheon-built prototype interceptor.
Copyright 2003 Times Newspapers Ltd.