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You know President Obama's fiscal 2014 defense spending request is a cut. You know it doesn't include war costs. You know it'll be a slog to get any of it passed by Congress as requested. But here are seven things about it you may not know:
1. It was finished four months ago. Defense Department planners finished most of the work on this budget request by December, like they do most years. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) effectively has been sitting on it since February, as Congress and the administration have tried to wrangle a larger deal on federal spending levels. That means much of next year's budget is based on pricing, readiness needs, and threat assumptions that will be even more outdated than usual by the time Congress passes a fiscal 2014 defense spending bill. First they have to pass the fiscal 2013 spending bill, though.
2. Ignore the topline, missile defense going strong. Of all the times to announce a $550 million reduction in missile defense spending, the week that a new intelligence report leaks that North Korea has learned how to fit a nuclear warhead atop a ballistic missile may not be ideal. The Pentagon requested $9.16 billion for FY14 and already Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, is criticizing the decision. "Despite almost daily evidence of the increasing threat to the United States posed by rogue states with ballistic missiles, the president's budget cuts spending on missile defense," he said. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, a war veteran, argued the budget request leaves U.S. territories exposed. Of course, strategically speaking, everything depends on how the Pentagon spends its billions on missile defense. The Pentagon wants $1 billion over 10 years to expand the ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, specifically to counter the emerging North Korean threat, which is an FY14 increase of $100 million from last year. Spending on Aegis anti-ballistic missile systems like those aboard destroyers deployed in the Western Pacific against the North Korea threat also will increase by $100 million to $1.5 billion. Congress still wants to kill the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) but the Pentagon approved $380 million through the end of the fiscal year. Conservatives want more funds for East Coast missile defense against a possible future Iranian threat. Under the radar, however, the Army still likes missiles and is buying more Patriot missiles, as well as offensive Javelin, and TOW, or Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire command-link guided, missiles.
3. The network is the Army's top priority and they cut that too. No, not the Matrix, the network. As in, a network to electronically link soldiers and their equipment to everything. Here, let the Army's deputy budget director, Davis Welch, explain it: "The Army is building an agile, secure, standards-based, versatile network that connects soldiers and their equipment to vital information and our joint interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational partners." Clear? No? Five programs are dedicated to connecting every piece of soldier equipment: Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, the Army's 15-year effort to build its own network; Joint Battle Command-Platform, which is like giving every soldier an iPad to see maps, texts, and ID enemy fighters; Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS); Nett Warrior, affectionately called "glorified smart phones"; and Distributed Common Ground System-Army, which since 1998 has tried to figure out how to share intelligence data across agencies. But the Army says it's playing ball and in the name of fiscal responsibility cutting the total modernization budget containing these programs by 7 percent, or $1.7 billion.
4. Time for the reset: Army stretching its helicopter dollars. Helicopters have been put through hell in the last decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the budget crunch means that instead of buying all new birds, the Army is upgrading and rebuilding much of its fleet. The Army will upgrade the "D" model of the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior, a small scout helicopter, to an "F" model, for example. That means upgrades to the cockpit and sensors. The Army did not find a new fuselage good enough for military use, so it's fixing up the Kiowa's from tip to tail, cutting weight with new heaters, composite materials, and displays. Helicopter bidders, don't get glum. The Army is still considering "the development and acquisition of a new armed aerial scout." The Army budget also includes funds to buy six new CH-47 Chinooks, but rebuild 22 of them, which the services says will save $810 million. The Army also is rebuilding 42 AH-46 Apache's, and buying none.
5. ...but the Air Force is ready to buy new. The U.S. Air Force is resurrecting its effort to replace its 112 or so HH-60 Pave Hawk combat search and rescue choppers under the program name -- ready for it? -- Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH). The service tried for nearly a decade to do this under the failed CSAR-X program, which was eventually canned after several rounds of competition that were mired in controversy and protests by losing bidders. In 2010, then Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said the service would simply buy new HH-60s to replace its old ones. However, the 2014 budget request asks for $395 million to restart the Air Force's research for "plans to acquire a long-term replacement CRH platform through a full and open competition." In theory, this means that Boeing could once again offer a version of its H-47 Chinook and AgustaWestland could once again offer a version of its EH-101. However, those companies, along with several others, have announced that they don't intend to play this time, leaving the field open to a Sikorsky-Lockheed Martin team to build brand new HH-60s.
5. You want long-range missiles? We got long-range missiles. The Pentagon's next generation of stealthy cruise missiles will begin production in FY14. Known as the Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile -- Extended Range, or JASSM ER, the missile fits very nicely within the Pentagon's plans for fighting in the Pacific. It's a stealthy, long-range, GPS-guided cruise missile designed to fly through an enemy's radars after being launched from B-1 bombers or F-35 Joint Strike Fighters from as far away as 575 miles. Needless to say, this is pretty far beyond the range of an enemy's air defenses. Click here to read about how the Navy is trying to turn JASSM into an anti-ship missile. The JASSM program is getting a total of $297.6 million in procurement and research cash in the 2014 budget request.
6. Three words: Floating combat bases. Then there's the $524 million included for the construction of an Afloat Staging Base (AFSB) -- likely a cargo ship design converted to be a floating base for troops around the world. "The ship may feature a large flight deck, space for troops, fuel storage, equipment storage and repair spaces," reads the president's budget request. "The AFSB will operate globally in support of patrol craft, auxiliary boats, helicopters, and special operations forces by providing a base of operations for multiple missions including counter-piracy/smuggling, maritime security, mine clearing, humanitarian aid and disaster relief." Sound familiar? That's because last year the Navy famously converted an old amphibious assault ship, the USS Ponce, into one of these before rushing it to the Persian Gulf. That move prompted a media blitz claiming the U.S. was sending a floating commando base to the Persian Gulf. It's also worth noting that the Navy announced this week that it's equipping the Ponce with lasers -- yes, lasers -- designed to defend the ship against small drones and swarms of fast-moving boats that could carry, say, suicide bombers.
7. The cyber budget is now openly paying for cyber combat teams. While DOD is chopping many expenses, cyber is set to grow, listed as a "key initiative" in this year's budget overview. To give you some sense of just how much cyber has increased in importance over the last year, the DOD's 2013 budget overview mentions "cyber" 47 times while the 2014 overview mentions it 153 times. The FY-14 budget request seeks to grow DOD's cyber cash to $4.7 billion, up from $3.9 billion in FY13, for an increase of about 20 percent. This increase will partly go toward funding the Pentagon's plan to field dozens of cyber-combat teams that will, among other things, protect the country from devastating cyber attack. Thirteen of these planned teams have been called "defend the nation" teams, and they will be prepared to perform offensive operations aimed at deterring cyber attacks. Twenty-seven teams will support battlefield commanders around the globe by giving them cyber-attack capabilities. The rest of the teams will focus on defending DOD's networks from cyber attack. Click here to read what else this cash will go toward.
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Kevin Baron reports on the people and policies driving the Pentagon and the national security establishment in The E-Ring.