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Congress: Why should each military branch get same budget?

House panel study, expected this week, may lead to Air Force, Navy getting smaller portion of defense spending.

By Gordon LuboldStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 26, 2008

Ground force: US soldiers searched a house in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, Feb. 18. Congress is looking at how wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have changed armed services’ roles, with an eye to adjusting the portion of budget each receives.

RAHMATULLAH NAIKZAD/AP

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The defense budget has been sliced into virtually the same-sized pieces for decades, with roughly equal shares of resources going to the Army, Air Force, and Navy. In a move analysts say is sure to strike fear among some services, Congress this week will begin asking why.

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A bipartisan House panel is nudging the Pentagon to begin a conversation on how to reform itself in many ways. But at the Pentagon, talk of change usually has a budgetary impact.

And, despite the past several years of "nation-building" and counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, there has been virtually no change in the way the defense budget is carved up in at least 40 years, says Rep. Jim Cooper (D) of Tennessee, who chairs the panel.

"That right there is a statistical indictment of the process," Representative Cooper says. "There had to be a year in which there were greater needs in one area or another, and the system was unable to accommodate it."

The fiscal 2009 budget request released this month, for example, shows the Army requesting a 27 percent share, the Air Force asking for a 28 percent share, and the Navy, which includes the Marine Corps, wanting a 29 percent share of the proposed $515 billion budget.

Cooper's seven-member panel is expected to release a study this week on each of the branches' "roles and missions" that may threaten services that are seen to perform more conventional warfare. With the focus on the ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that makes some in the Navy and Air Force worry.

Cooper hopes the study will spark a broader debate about the need to reform national security, with new emphases on cybersecurity and nonmilitary government agencies. The panel isn't recommending specific changes to the budget as much as it is raising concerns about the Pentagon's historical aversion to change. More specifically, some services are clinging to a version of warfare the panel believes is dated.

"There should be vociferous support from inside the services, since the military has been left carrying the burden of the failures of our national security institutions," reads a draft of the report, to be released Thursday. "Instead, our military has resisted change just as they have past efforts at reform. The Air Force and Navy are reemphasizing more traditional threats and downplaying the unexpected threats we face today."

In fact, the Navy has tried to emphasize its so-called soft-power capabilities to combat terrorism, and senior Air Force officials seek to remind Congress that conventional threats, like those presented by China, still remain.

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