House chairman: Pentagon benefits boost brings weapons reductions

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., Thursday said the Pentagon's proposal to curb funding for the Air Force's next generation stealth fighter illustrates the growing tension between entitlement spending and military modernization in the Bush budget.

The Air Force's F/A-22 is one of several big-ticket weapons systems on the chopping block in the fiscal 2006 budget request. Proponents of the high-performance fighter say it is needed to maintain air superiority.

The problem is "it costs a lot of money," Hunter said, adding that the aircraft's funding will be reduced in the near future in an effort to rein in spending. "To some degree that reflects a problem we have, the tension that we have in the defense budget," Hunter said.

In recent years, the Pentagon has increased military personnel benefits to include more family separation pay, medical pay and healthcare benefits for members of the National Guard and Reserve. And the Pentagon's $419.3 billion budget for fiscal 2006 and its anticipated $80 billion fiscal 2005 supplemental request are no exception.

But Hunter, a vocal proponent of increased investment in military weapons and technologies, said last week that the Pentagon must strike the right balance between entitlement spending and modernization. "We have to balance this requirement," he said, adding that the military should strive to give the best of both worlds to its personnel, providing benefits to troops as well as the cutting-edge technologies they need on the battlefield.

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