WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump's proposed budget for 2018 is asking $640 billion in military spending, more than $50 billion over current congressional budget caps, to pay for modernization, readiness and operations.
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Despite the increase, analysts and lawmakers said the budget was nearly indistinguishable from the last Pentagon spending requests under the Obama years, rather than the large-scale military buildup Mr. Trump vowed to pursue during his presidential campaign.
One of Mr. Trump's most prominent military spending proposals during the campaign was to build up the Navy to at least 350 ships from more than 280 in the fleet now. The proposed budget makes small inroads on that score, including funding toward two Virginia-class submarines, two Aegis destroyers and a littoral combat ship, or LCS.
The proposed budget also includes money to put toward 70 additional F-35 joint strike fighters, and would buy nearly 1,400 new Hellfire missiles, 34 Tomahawk cruise missiles, and 12,822 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, known as smart-bombs, according to budget summaries.
Still, the overall budget request is only about $15 billion more than former President Barack Obama's budgeters had forecast for 2018. It is about $33 billion more than Mr. Obama's original defense budget request for fiscal 2017.
"This could easily be mistaken for Obama's ninth budget request," said Todd Harrison, a budget expert and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington. Given the congressional budget process, he added, Mr. Trump's budget request was effectively "dead on arrival."
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Among obstacles are that spending increases at the Pentagon would rely in part on proposed cuts to Medicaid and other social programs, unpopular reductions considered unlikely to survive congressional scrutiny.
Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Trump's budget is like the plan projected by Mr. Obama's aides for 2018 -- "plus 3%."
Congress will always tinker with a budget bill, he said. "It's never happened that Congress has ever rubber-stamped" a budget, Mr. Thornberry said. "Of course [the budget] will change."
He added the budget debate shouldn't focus on numbers but on capabilities. "It's not about $603 billion or $639 billion, it's about, 'Do you want airplanes that fly?' and here's what it costs to do that," he said.
The $640 billion proposal for 2018 includes $65 billion for what is known as overseas contingency operations, primarily to pay for operations related the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.
Defense officials said the budget request is an attempt to balance the need between near-term and long-term readiness, getting more training for troops and more ships and aircraft.
Increasing the budget and raising the caps put in place in 2011 under the federal Budget Control Act, or BCA, is critical, defense officials said at the Pentagon Tuesday. The world "is becoming a more dangerous place, with rising terrorism, and more aggressive potential adversaries, " said John Roth, who is handling the duties of the comptroller and chief financial officer at the Pentagon.
"It's our responsibility to advocate for the force, for the need for a joint force that can do what the nation asks us to do to defend the nation," said Lt. Gen. Anthony Ierardi, Joint Staff director for force structure, resources and assessment, at a Pentagon briefing.
The proposed budget would make investments in training, maintenance and modernization and provides money for more exercises and other "joint training" capabilities, according to documents provided Tuesday by the Pentagon. If enacted, it would also provide funding for more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR -- the intelligence capability for which there is insatiable demand and is often provided by drones.
The proposed budget would allow the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force to increase their sizes modestly. The Marine Corps, for example, would get funding to forward-deploy its special task forces; the Air Force would get money to expand its size and the Navy would get more money for ship maintenance, among other things.
The U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, selected for many high-risk operations, would get more money for precision strike and air mobility capabilities. SOCOM would also get more surveillance capability, according to budget documents.
Mr. Trump's Pentagon budget proposes a round of base closures, but not until 2021, after Mr. Trump has completed his first term. Congress has been unwilling to review excess defense infrastructure in past years.
Write to Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 23, 2017 18:58 ET (22:58 GMT)