Defense corporations urge increase in weapons investment

A bigger budget is needed to maintain the U.S. military’s technological edge, industry report says.

The next administration should increase the Defense Department's budget and establish a floor for annual defense spending of no less than 4 percent of the gross domestic product, according to the aerospace and defense industry's trade association.

With demands on the federal budget mounting due to deficits and growth in entitlement and other domestic programs, the next administration must resist political pressure to cut defense spending as U.S. involvement in Iraq is reduced, said a report by the Aerospace Industries Association.

Maintaining the U.S. military's technological advantage over potential opponents requires a substantial increase in modernization spending, the report said, calling for steady weapons procurement funding of $120 billion to $150 billion per year. The Pentagon requested $104 billion for fiscal 2009.

"We want our warfighters to go into battle with a decided technological edge … we are not looking for an even playing field," said Marion Blakey, president of AIA, at a news conference on Tuesday. The costs to the country of fighting a war without that technological edge would be enormous, she added.

Military spending on new weapons systems is being squeezed by rising personnel costs, a sharp increase in the operations and maintenance portion of the Defense budget due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other overseas operations, and the need to repair war-worn equipment.

The report said funding to repair and replace all equipment damaged or worn out in combat operations should come from separate supplemental appropriations and not from the baseline Defense budget. Supplementals should continue for several years after troops leave Iraq and Afghanistan, the study added. "We can't let the cost of the current conflict jeopardize success in the next one," Blakey said.

Weapons and equipment procurement amounted to $50 billion to $70 billion per year in the 2007 and 2008 supplementals, according to the report. There has been pressure from some in Congress to include war-related funding in the Defense budget.

Personnel costs, including pay, health care and training are consuming ever larger chunks of the Defense budget. While all the presidential candidates have called for stepping up ground forces, they haven't talked about an increase in the overall Defense budget, Blakey said.

The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review will begin almost immediately after the next administration comes into office. The 2006 QDR "tilted" toward the kinds of fighting seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, she said, but the 2010 QDR must plan for "near peer regional conflicts," which means countries such as China and Russia, while also continuing the fight against global terrorism.

Blakey said AIA provided the report to the presidential candidates and Congress to inspire debate on defense modernization, so it won't be "left on the side of the table" as policymakers put together future budgets. A follow-up report due out this summer will take an in-depth look at specific defense areas including tactical aviation, space systems and logistics.