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Obama's budget avoids big cuts in US military spending

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The Pentagon laid out a budget plan Wednesday that holds military spending steady next year without taking into account the cost of the war in Afghanistan or looming automatic budget cuts.

President Barack Obama's request of $526.6 billion for the Defense Department keeps the base budget at about the same level as in 2013, avoiding dramatic cuts to weapons or benefits.

But the proposal leaves out the cost of the war in Afghanistan, which is projected to surpass $80 billion in the current fiscal year. And it does not address automatic cuts that remain in force without a deal in a deadlocked Congress.

The Pentagon's spending blueprint calls for investments in new aircraft, naval ships and missile defense weaponry, while touting $31 billion in savings, including cuts to some weapons projects.

The budget plan would pay for 29 F-35 fighter jets, a warplane that is supposed to form the backbone of the military's future fleet, 18 C-130 cargo aircraft, two Global Hawk surveillance drones and 27 Predator and Reaper robotic aircraft.

The Predators and Reapers have served as the weapon of choice in Obama's air war on Al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan and Yemen.

The budget request calls for a major increase in precision guided munitions, with funding for 6,995 of the bombs in 2014 compared to 3,259 in fiscal year 2013.

Funding for all the armed services is scaled back under the proposed budget, except for the Air Force, which would receive an increase of $4.7 billion.

The increase in Air Force funding would be focused on operations and construction of military facilities, according to Pentagon budget documents.

The proposal would support more than 60 air squadrons, but officials say if automatic budget cuts remain in effect, about 17 of the squadrons would have to be effectively grounded due to a lack of funds.

The Pentagon envisages cutting a brigade from the Army's ranks, as well as an infantry battalion from the Marine Corps.

As for the Navy, the budget would fund two attack submarines, new littoral combat ships designed for coastal operations and P-8 Poseidon aircraft for anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare.

But the Navy's total number of ships would decline to 273 in fiscal year 2014 from 285 in 2013. Despite fiscal pressures, the Pentagon would still adhere to a long-term goal of a 306-ship fleet within 30 years.

The proposed defense budget amounts to more than $51 billion above spending caps imposed under a 2011 "budget control" law designed to rein in government deficits.

If lawmakers fail to forge a compromise on spending and taxes, the Defense Department will have to cut the $51 billion due to the automatic spending reductions known as "sequestration."

The political gridlock in Congress has produced chronic financial uncertainty for US commanders, who are warning that combat readiness is in jeopardy.

"Moving from one crisis to the next without resolution of the underlying issues has created a fog bank of uncertainty for defense planners," according to Todd Harrison, an analyst with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130410/obamas-budget-avoids-big-cuts-us-military-spending