How could the Pentagon spend extra billions? Easily

How could the Pentagon spend extra billions? Easily

Washington (AFP) - President Donald Trump has outlined a goal to hike American military spending by nearly 10 percent, shoveling yet more cash toward a defense budget already greater than that of the next seven nations combined.

The proposal faces stiff opposition but if approved, the basic military budget would swell to $603 billion -- with billions more available for overseas wars.

While critics question Trump's math, or say a military-industrial spending bonanza is unjustified, the Pentagon insists it is struggling on multiple fronts. Hawkish Republicans say the additional money wouldn't go nearly far enough.

So what, exactly, does the military need billions of dollars extra for? The Pentagon's short answer: Plenty.

Military leaders have in recent weeks warned that aging equipment and underfunding have left the Pentagon staving off a crisis in "readiness" -- the speed at which it can respond.

They say the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere have hammered military equipment, much of which needs urgent upgrading or replacement.

And the brass point to a depleted workforce dealing with constant deployments and low retention rates.

"We were out of Iraq, but we are back in Iraq. We were out of Afghanistan, but we are not out of Afghanistan," said General Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle, who heads the Air Combat Command.

"We have Libya, we have Yemen, we have North Korea still, we have South China Sea, the Ukraine," he added.

Carlisle noted that the Air Force has shrunk its fighter squadrons from almost 100 in the early days of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq down to just 55 today -- even though warplanes form the backbone of the fight against the Islamic State group.

He urgently wants to get the number of squadrons up to 60.

Then there's the development of the Long-Range Standoff nuclear cruise missile, the replacement of America's intercontinental missile fleet, the F-35 stealth plane, a fighter pilot shortage and the goal of swelling the ranks from 317,000 today up to about 350,000 -- to name but a few areas clamoring for cash.

And that's just the Air Force.

- Ships and soldiers -

Trump in January signed an executive order to begin increasing the size of the US military, promising new aircraft, naval ships and more resources for the Pentagon.

He offered few specifics but has said he envisioned a naval fleet of 350 vessels, up from the Navy's current 274 and more than its 310-vessel target.

The Navy has a long wishlist of what it could buy this year if it had more money. This includes 24 F/A Super Hornets ($2.3 billion), six more Poseidon maritime patrol planes ($1.2 billion), another amphibious assault ship ($1.83 billion) and so on.

Neither the Navy nor Trump have described what the additional ships might be, but the costs would quickly tot up.

A single Virginia class nuclear submarine goes for about $2.7 billion. The latest aircraft carrier is nearly $12 billion.

As for the Army, Thomas Spoehr, a retired lieutenant general and military expert at the Heritage Foundation conservative think tank, said it needs more than the 476,000 soldiers currently planned for 2017.

"That's still way below where there need to be. Everybody is in agreement that there need to be at least 500,000 active duty soldiers. That's a fairly costly endeavor (of up to $5 billion) to do that," Spoehr said.

The Army started to shrink after the withdrawal of most troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, dropping from a high of 570,000 soldiers.

Spoehr added that the Army's modernization programs for Apaches and Black Hawk helicopters need to be accelerated.

- Budget caps -

Despite Trump's promise of a "great rebuilding," his lofty pledges are constrained by fiscal reality.

One roof on defense spending is a legal budget cap, known as sequestration, that was implemented under Barack Obama.

And the Republican-held Congress will still need Democratic buy-in to approve the military spending proposal -- a tough sell considering Trump wants to pay for it by slashing funding to other federal agencies and likely will cut taxes.

Still, for hawkish Republican Senator John McCain, Trump's proposals are lacking.

The president's request is only $18.5 billion above what Obama had proposed for fiscal year 2018 anyway, he said, urging a spending level of $640 billion.

"In other words, President Trump intends to submit a defense budget that is a mere three percent above President Obama's defense budget, which has left our military underfunded, undersized and unready to confront threats to our national security," McCain said.

"With a world on fire, America cannot secure peace through strength with just three percent more than President Obama's budget. We can and must do better."