Defense Secretary Says $700 Billion Budget Key to Military Revamp

By Jim Fisher-Thompson
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - Defense Secretary Robert Gates tells Congress the administration’s comprehensive 2008 defense budget proposal aims to revamp the U.S. military's ability to confront global security challenges.

Testifying before a congressional subcommittee March 29, Gates said the $700 billion requested by the Bush administration for fiscal year 2008, which begins October 1, is needed "to defend our interests around the world" and "against inevitable threats of the future."

Those threats include "danger posed by Iran's and North Korea's nuclear ambitions" and "the uncertain paths of China and Russia, which are both pursuing sophisticated military modernization programs," he said.

Gates acknowledged the budget request was large, but added, that at "4 percent of America's gross domestic product [GDP] - the amount of money the United States is projected to spend on defense this year is actually a smaller percentage of GDP than … during previous times of war such as Vietnam and Korea."

The annual Defense Department budget request is separate from an emergency supplemental bill Congress currently is debating that would provide an additional $124 billion to fund U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that also includes a timeline for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.  President Bush has promised to veto that measure because of the timelines it would impose. (See related article.)

With more than 170,000 U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, House Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, a former U.S. Marine officer, said, "I am deeply concerned about the readiness of our forces to decisively defeat future threats." 

Gates said the 2008 budget continues efforts by the Bush administration "to reform and transform our military establishment to be more agile, adaptive, and expeditionary to deal with a range of both conventional and irregular threats."

New investments in the budget proposal include $16.8 billion more than the previous year's budget for training, equipment repair and replacement, and intelligence gathering and analysis, Gates said.

The administration is seeking $177 billion for research, development and procurement of new weapons systems including $14.4 billion for construction of new aircraft carriers and amphibious transport ships that would have new designs, the defense secretary said.

A large part of the new defense spending - $141 billion – would support the U.S. military's efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gates said.

That part includes $37.6 billion to refit the ground forces, the Army and the Marine Corps, "who have borne the brunt of combat" with new equipment, he said.  Another $4 billion would be devoted to countering the threat of improvised explosive devices, which are causing the bulk of U.S. casualties in Iraq, Gates said.