DoD Delays Weapons Buys

The Clinton Administration's fiscal 1998 Defense budget request of $259.4 billion increases funding for operations and maintenance but delays a long-planned boost in spending on weapons modernization.

The Administration also is requesting $2 billion in supplemental funding for 1997 to pay for unplanned contingency operations in Bosnia and Iraq. The supplemental appropriation would be offset by rescinding $4.8 billion in previously appropriated 1997 funds.

Striking the right balance between operations and maintenance accounts, which fund military readiness, and long-term weapons modernization programs, is an ongoing problem for the Pentagon. In recent years, Defense officials have been forced to move funds from procurement accounts into operations and maintenance to pay for unplanned contingencies and maintain readiness.

In keeping with priorities established by former Secretary of Defense William Perry, the 1998 budget continues to place a high priority on readiness and quality of life programs for military personnel and their families. But while DoD is requesting less for modernization in 1998 than it had previously planned, the long-term goal remains to achieve $60 billion in procurement funding by 2001.

"Over the longer term, the administration's new plan may reflect a somewhat brighter picture for modernization," according to an analysis by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), a non-profit think tank in Washington. The administration's Future Years Defense Program (1998-2003) as implemented by the 1998 budget proposal would contain $4 billion more for procurement than previously planned. The new plan also provides $7 billion more for research and development.

Major weapons projects funded in the 1998 proposal include the Navy's F/A-18 E/F aircraft and the New Attack Submarine, the Air Force's C-17 transport aircraft, and the Army's Longbow Apache helicopter. Research, development and testing also will continue on the Joint Strike Fighter, the Navy's arsenal ship, the Army's Comanche helicopter and the Air Force's F-22 fighter.

In addition, the 1998 budget requests $3.5 billion for the Ballistic Missile Defense program, with an additional $17.9 billion planned through 2003.

"Whether or not the rate of modernization envisioned in the administration's current plan is necessary or appropriate, both in terms of its rate and the relative priority accorded to new systems, is, of course, another question," CSBA noted.

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