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U.S.: Rumsfeld Details Record Defense Budget

Donald Rumsfeld (file photo) (epa) PRAGUE, 7 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- In a press briefing at the Pentagon, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the record amount allocated for defense in the 2007 budget proposal submitted to Congress on 6 February  would be used to boost the United States' ability to both fight unconventional terrorism and win conventional wars.

The Pentagon budget for the financial year beginning on 1 October boosts current spending on defense by 6.9 percent, bringing the total amount spent on the military to a record $439.3 billion.

The amount does not include administration plans to ask Congress for an additional $120 billion in funding for ongoing U.S. military and other operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The president's budget request for the Department of Defense represents an increase over last year. It reflects what we believe should be the country's national-security priorities, namely to help defend the United States of America and the American people and their interests, to give flexibility to commanders, to prepare for both conventional and unconventional or irregular warfare, and, importantly, to work closely with partner nations," Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon on 6 February.

Rumsfeld also said that while what he called the investment in security represented by the budget was high, it is still less than 4 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP).

"We have to look out at the world and say that the single-most-precious thing we have here that protects our freedom and the prosperity of the American people is their security, and that does require investment," he said. "The investment is large; it's small as a percentage of gross domestic product at 3.7 or [3.]8 percent."

One high-cost item in the proposed budget is a request for $6.6 billion to convert army divisions into smaller, more rapidly deployable combat brigades. Creating the more rapidly deployable and self-sufficient brigades means more artillery, more Humvees, and more body armor for the troops. The budget proposal includes another $6 billion to cover those costs.

More Money For Modern Needs

Those are some of the more conventional military items in the proposed budget -- along with next-generation ships, including destroyers for hunting submarines, and new fighter aircraft. But there are also many funding requests for less conventional programs especially suited to fighting terrorist groups abroad.

Those programs include unmanned aircraft for surveillance. Some $12 billion will go to acquiring 322 unmanned aerial-reconnaissance vehicles. Another $342 million will go toward expanding the force of Predator surveillance drones. The Predator has the capability of launching missiles at targets it spots.

The size of U.S. Special Forces adept at guerrilla warfare, among other tasks, will also increase. The number is slated to increase from a current 50,000 troops to 64,000 by 2011. As a measure of how the war on terror has changed U.S. tactics, the budget for special operations in 2007 is $5 billion, more than double what is was in 2001.

Increased Language Training

Pentagon budget chief Tina Jonas, who spoke at the news conference with Rumsfeld, said the military also wants to expand foreign-language training for special forces, especially in Arabic.

"To equip our forces with language and cultural skills that they will need for 21st-century missions, the budget expands language and cultural-awareness training," Jonas said. "The budget provides the resources to increase language competency of general forces and in languages like Arabic and others, expands the language training for special-operations and intelligence units, increases pay and recruitment of native speakers to serve as translators and interpreters for operational forces."

Overall, the budget proposal continues a drive by Rumsfeld to invest in technological advances and allocates some $73 billion for research and development of new arms. They include planned new cannons that can individually produce the combined firepower of several current ones but require fewer soldiers to operate.

The Pentagon's goal is to ultimately have an army of 482,000 soldiers -- slightly less than the 492,000 soldiers now in uniform.

The optimum size for the army remains a hotly contested point in Washington, with some legislators arguing that the military is currently stretched too thin by the war in Iraq and needs to be larger.

The proposed defense budget represents some 16 percent of the administration's $2.77 trillion federal budget. It is widely expected to be approved by Congress, even though the increases for the military come as the administration seeks cuts in domestic social programs.