Thursday, February 26, 2009

Obama seeks US$663.7b for 2010 defence spending

Obama seeks US$663.7b for 2010 defence spending

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President Barack Obama on Thursday unveiled a 663.7 billion dollar defence budget, up a modest 1.5 percent on 2009, but projected a sharp decline in spending on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the coming years.

The new administration has signalled it hopes to make savings through a planned withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and from cuts in expensive weapons programmes - though Obama's budget request did not specify what new weaponry might be scrapped.

The president's proposed budget for the fiscal year 2010 unveiled on Thursday seeks 130 billion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, down from 141.4 billion for operations in the current fiscal year.

The proposed budget offered a rough forecast that the cost of the war efforts would drop to about 50 billion dollars annually in the next several years.

The monthly cost of the war in Iraq has already declined from about 10 billion dollars to eight billion in recent months, officials said.

The budget request includes 533.7 billion dollars for the main defence budget, which marks an increase of four percent over the main budget for fiscal 2009, excluding most of the costs of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some war costs were shifted to the main defence budget, Pentagon officials said, but did not offer further details.

The proposed military spending will "meet the national security needs of this country," a Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters.

The president also requested an additional 75.5 billion dollars to cover war costs for the rest of the current fiscal year, after Congress approved 65.9 billion for fiscal 2009 before Obama took office.

The vast US defence budget represents more than 40 percent of the world's total military spending and US spending will continue to grow under Obama's budget, albeit at a slower pace than under former president George W. Bush.

"It looks like the pattern of overall growth in Pentagon spending will continue in President Obama's first budget," said Travis Sharp, military policy analyst at the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

"The annual growth rate, however, appears to be lower than was typical during the Bush years."

Bush's annual defence budget requests called for increases of about four to five percent in military spending, according to Sharp.

Under Obama, the projected war costs were now being presented at the same time as the rest of the federal budget to show "greater transparency," said the defence official, instead of past practice when proposed war budgets were presented piecemeal over time.

The war costs would also be included when the government calculates the overall budget deficit, in a break with previous policy, the official said.

"What the administration is trying to do is they're trying to bring visibility to the entire war cost estimate at the time of the submission of the budget," the official said.

The president and his Democratic allies have criticised the previous administration's controversial method of accounting for the cost of the wars through a series of "supplemental" funding requests outside of the main defence budget.

In Obama's proposed budget, his administration vowed to impose strict scrutiny over spending on weapons programs but shed no light on which aircraft, ships, vehicles or other sophisticated weaponry might be dumped.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates, placing a top priority on fighting insurgents rather than conventional warfare, has warned that big weapons projects plagued by delays and cost overruns could face cutbacks.

A list of candidates for possible cutbacks drawn up by the Pentagon includes more Navy destroyers built by General Dynamics, fighter jets including Lockheed Martin and Boeing's F-22 Raptors and carrier-based Super Hornets, a digital radio system for all the armed services and missile defence weaponry for Poland and the Czech Republic.

Gates has already singled out the F-22 Raptor fighters, which cost about 350 million dollars each, for potential cutbacks.

Military analysts have also questioned the need for more Navy aircraft carriers and a computer-linked network of Army vehicles, known as Future Combat Systems.

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