Pentagon budget: top 3 winners and losers

As the Pentagon rolled out its budget preview Thursday, it stressed the tough work involved in cutting $487 billion over the next decade. But in Pentagon parlance, the word “cut” is a relative term. While the Defense Department’s base budget initially decreases from $553 billion this year to $525 billion in fiscal year 2013, it is still more than its $480 billion base budget in 2008, when US troops were in the midst of two wars. The budget will then rebound steadily to $567 billion in fiscal year 2017. 

With this in mind, here are the top three winners and losers:

Winner No. 1: the Navy

US Navy/AP/File
Some budget hawks wanted the Pentagon to ditch one of its 11 aircraft carriers. No thank you, the Pentagon said.

The Pentagon has made no secret of its plan to shift its attention toward the Pacific (read China) in the years to come. This is a boon for the US Navy, whose aircraft carriers and submarines will be key in any US military maneuvering that involves China, senior military officials stress. It is a change of fortune for a service branch that often felt marginalized amid the decade’s two large counterinsurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Indeed, despite some robust calls to reduce just one of the 11 aircraft carriers in the Navy’s fleet, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Thursday that this would not be happening. He cited the need for a Navy “that maintains forward presence and is able to penetrate enemy defenses.”

What’s more, the Pentagon will be putting money into developing, for example, “a new afloat forward staging base” and “a design that will allow new Virginia-class submarines to be modified to carry more cruise missiles.”

The Pentagon is also currently working to develop an “undersea conventional prompt global strike option” – essentially arming submarine-based missiles with conventional warheads – despite a Bush administration decision to scrap it amid concerns that they would be mistaken for nuclear missile strikes.

“Modernizing our submarine fleet will be critical to our efforts to maintain maritime access in these vital regions of the world,” Mr. Panetta said. One senior military official pointed to the Navy’s “particularly useful role” in the seas around China, “for the things we want to do in the future.”

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