Making an Exit: US and Afghan soldiers finish a patrol near Kandahar, Afghanistan, on March 5. Defense leaders say the fiscal 2015 budget submission will reshape the US military after more than a decade of ground wars. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s 2015 budget proposal holds weapon spending near 2014 levels but starts the process of reshaping the US military for a leaner future with less of a focus on prolonged ground wars and more of a focus on fighting on a high-tech, contested battlefield.
The Defense Department has proposed retiring aircraft — including the U-2 spy plane and A-10 Warthog, which entered service during the Cold War and were heavily relied upon in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, it will invest in a stealthy, long-range bomber, and space and cyber forces.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel described the $496 billion 2015 budget proposal, which the administration of President Barack Obama sent to Congress on March 4, as “a statement of values and priorities.
“It’s a realistic budget that prepares the United States military to defend our national security in a world that is becoming less predictable; more volatile; and, in some ways, more threatening to our country and our interests,” Hagel told the House Armed Services Committee on March 6. “It’s a plan that allows our military to meet America’s future challenges and threats.”
Some of the budget proposal’s highlights include:
■The base budget request for 2015 is $496 billion, in line with federal budget caps on defense spending.
■DoD submitted a separate $26 billion spending request that would fund training, logistics and aircraft purchases. That $26 billion is part of a larger $56 billion White House opportunity, growth and security initiative.
■DoD’s 2015 budget proposal for the Afghanistan war budget, called overseas contingency operations, is on hold until the US and Afghan governments iron out an agreement on NATO troop levels after this year.
■The budget proposal includes $2.2 trillion in defense spending projections between 2016 and 2019 that are $115 billion above the federal spending caps, but the budget documents backing that up have not been released.
■The budget also includes a deeper description of further cuts that would come if the budget caps remain in place, such as the retirement of the KC-10 aerial tanker fleet, suspending Navy F-35 purchases and reducing ship procurement. That is not planned for in the five-year projections.
The Pentagon plans to cut weapon purchases slightly in fiscal 2015 — when compared to the enacted levels in 2014 — but still plans to invest $153.9 billion in new aircraft, ships, satellites, ground systems and other equipment.
DoD’s modernization investments — which include procurement and research and development (R&D) accounts — fell only 3.6 percent despite federal budget caps.
R&D accounts in DoD’s base budget were not hit as deeply as expected, falling $1.7 billion, or 2.6 percent, from the 2014 enacted spending levels.
Defense leaders have stressed for the past year their desire to protect R&D funding, despite defense spending cuts.
Procurement fell a little steeper, falling $3.8 billion, or 4 percent, below the 2014 enacted level.
Moreover, the White House’s opportunity, growth and security initiative, which is separate from the Pentagon’s 2015 base budget, includes nearly $4 billion for procurement of military aircraft.
If Congress approves the extra proposal, it would boost Pentagon modernization spending close to the $159.7 billion enacted by Congress in 2014.
But a different picture is painted when compared to spending levels projected in 2014.
Last year, DoD said it was planning to submit a 2015 modernization budget that totaled $179 billion — $106.2 billion for procurement and $72.8 billion for R&D. That actual 2015 proposal is $25 billion less, a 14 percent cut.
Still, the Pentagon is living up to its promise to protect R&D money in its fiscal 2015 budget submission, and it will push for greater risk-taking and big bets, a senior official said.
Moreover, the Quadrennial Defense Review, the US military strategy revision conducted every four years, emphasizes protecting science, technology, research and development, specifically cyber capabilities.
While the R&D budget will face pressure in the next couple of years as force structure savings take time to kick in and readiness is protected, Defense Department R&D chief Al Shaffer said March 4 that DoD is looking at higher-risk, higher-reward opportunities.
“Although we’re protecting technology, we want to go ahead and invest in a few big bets,” Shaffer said at the Aviation Week Defense Technologies and Requirements conference in Arlington, Va., shortly before budget documents were officially released.
“Coming out of the Vietnam War, we invested in stealth,” he said. “Coming out of the Cold War, we invested very heavily in missile defense. So it’s really looking at what areas are we going to invest in to prepare for the future.”
In particular, the Pentagon has hyped planned investments exceeding $1 billion in the next-generation jet engine initiative. But Shaffer said DoD is looking for greater risk-taking in R&D across the department.
“I think we have to be a little bit more risk tolerant,” he said. “How we get there, I don’t know. One of the ways that we can get there a little bit is by, and we’ve seen a trend in this direction, protecting the investment in the places that tolerate more risk and failure, DARPA [the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency], at the expense of the service programs.”
DARPA saw a requested increase of $136 million, or roughly 5 percent from fiscal 2014 enacted levels, in the new budget. Shaffer warned that the military services need to follow DARPA’s lead.
“If the services don’t begin to do more high risk, then I think we will continue to see greater investment percentage in DARPA,” he said.
The overall research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) request climbed a little over $400 million, or less than 1 percent compared to 2014 enacted levels.
For most programs, however, the funding actually declined. It was a 9 percent increase in the Navy Department’s RDT&E budget request, representing an increase of $1.3 billion, that lifted the overall defense request into positive territory. ■