[WASHINGTON POST] Il bilancio della difesa Usa lievita fino a 400 MILIARDI DI DOLLARI

Fonte: Washington Post

Defense Bills Expected to Pass Quickly

$400 Billion Plan Raises Concerns

By Walter Pincus and Dan Morgan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, May 19, 2003; Page A04

The Senate and House are poised this week to rush through bills approving the Bush administration's plan to spend more than $400 billion on military programs, with only one or two days of debate on measures that would consume nearly 20 percent of the federal budget.

Except for some modifications on the margins, the congressional defense panels last week largely ratified the Bush administration's plan to "transform" the armed services to fight the war on terrorism and meet other new threats. But at the same time, they went along with the administration on spending increases to buy advanced versions of the kind of military hardware that was used to confront the Soviet Union during the Cold War, including submarines, destroyers and fighter aircraft.

The bills are scheduled to reach the Senate floor today and the House floor Wednesday. Debate is expected to last no more than two days in either chamber, congressional sources said. The Senate Armed Services Committee drafted its bill behind closed doors.

Though most experts recognize that the United States faces a whole new set of enemies, the military plan has raised concerns among some analysts. Under the Pentagon's plan, defense spending could reach $500 billion in 2010 when measured in today's dollars, congressional sources said. That would exceed the peak at the height of the Cold War buildup ordered by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, and would be near the level of the Korean War years.

Michael E. O'Hanlon, a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution, said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is paying for his transformation program and weapons systems that are the priority of the services.

Rumsfeld "could take on the military and change things, but he is just adding things," O'Hanlon said. He compared Rumsfeld to Reagan's defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger, who had a reputation as a budget-cutter when he arrived at the Pentagon but then supported most of the services' spending requests.

The administration's plan "is heavily weighted toward . . . the acquisition of next-generation systems," according to an analysis by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent policy research institute. "An approach that included the purchase of some next-generation weapons systems but focused relatively more on the production of new current-generation systems and upgrades of existing systems . . . might cost substantially less."

With Republicans and Democrats supporting more defense spending in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, congressional pressures for cost-cutting appear minimal. But the center warned that if the nation's fiscal situation continues to deteriorate, "[o]ver the long term, perhaps even more than some other areas of government spending (especially entitlements like Social Security and Medicare), defense spending is likely to be undercut by the existence of large and growing deficits."

An example of how programs capable of performing similar future missions are growing simultaneously is aircraft procurement, defense analysts said. While the Pentagon has announced plans for an array of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), it also will get a new air-to-air fighter, the F-22, to replace the F-15. The new fleet of 276 F-22s for the Air Force will cost $42 billion.

"We already have an ample number to establish air superiority almost anywhere . . . even China, which could eventually produce a good fighter," O'Hanlon said.

The Pentagon's own "UAV Roadmap," released in December, envisioned that by 2012 the Defense Department "will probably be operating F-16-size UAVs capable of supporting a variety of combat and combat support missions . . . and possibly deep strike interdiction."

Nonetheless, the Pentagon is seeking, and the House and Senate Armed Services committees approved, funding for development of a new Joint Strike Fighter. The cost is $4 billion this year, rising to $4.2 billion in the new budget. Different versions are planned for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. Individual aircraft will cost as much as $65 million.

At the same time, UAV funding goes up from $1.3 billion this year to $1.7 billion in the new budget. The funding will increase to $2.1 billion in 2005. The United States used three UAV systems in Afghanistan in 2001 and used 10 systems in Iraq two years later.

Major spending next year will be for 16 faster and more heavily armed and sensor-equipped Predator Bs, which worked well in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen. The newest models will cost about $9 million each, up from $4.5 million for versions used in Afghanistan.

About $500 million in development funding is earmarked in 2004 for the much larger Global Hawks, which had some use in Afghanistan and Iraq, and proved their long-flying capability by making transoceanic flights from the United States to Portugal and Australia.

The funding goes to further develop Global Hawk for Air Force and Navy use, with $90 million for demonstrations of the UAV's use in high-altitude maritime surveillance. The first production model is due in September, and by 2007, the Air Force hopes to have 27. That would put the service more than halfway toward a planned fleet of 51 at an average cost of $57 million each, including all associated expenses.

Asked Wednesday at a Senate Appropriations hearing whether he envisions the Pentagon acquiring more and better armed robot planes, Rumsfeld replied, "I do. . . . They may be surface. They may be subsurface. They may be a variety of things. We will see [this] evolving over the decades ahead in ways that we probably don't even imagine today."

Other systems are also being well-funded. Under the bill approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee, the number of attack submarines could rise in the next few years even as older Los Angeles-class submarines are phased out of service, sources said. The plan calls for funding one new Virginia-class submarine in each of the next three years, and then two a year starting in 2007. The submarines are produced in Norfolk and Groton, Conn., in the home states of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), the ranking Democrat on the airland subcommittee.

Adding to the spending pressures is the fact that Congress has begun asserting its own priorities, separate from those of the administration.

One area in which Rumsfeld made tough choices and pushed for economies was in heavy armor used by the Army. The Defense Department requested no funding to upgrade either the Bradley Fighting Vehicle or the Abrams tank, preferring to redirect resources to an Army transformation process that is supposed to lead to lighter, faster and better integrated battlefield formations after 2010.

But the House Armed Services Committee overruled the Pentagon and approved $726.8 million to upgrade the Bradley and Abrams, citing the critical role they had played in Iraq. The panel said it was "extremely concerned" about the impact the Pentagon's decision could have on the Army's force structure and its "industrial base" -- a reference to the defense contractors who build and upgrade the systems.

As a result, the panel recommended $258.8 million for the Bradley upgrades and $424 million for the Abrams tank. An additional $44 million would go to combat support and combat service support equipment for heavy forces modernization. Such a provision was not included in the bill approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

While insisting on the modernization of the older systems, the committee matched the administration's request for $1.7 billion for the Future Combat System, a key component of Rumsfeld's long-range plan to transform the Army.

Another sign that Congress is prepared to be generous is the House panel's decision to more than double, to $653.6 million, the Pentagon's request for Tomahawk cruise missiles for the Navy. The idea was to keep a sustained production of 600 missiles a year and add $40 million to purchase equipment to raise the number to 900 missiles a year within three years.

Although popular for specific fixed targets in Afghanistan and Iraq, they were not used in enormous numbers as were precision bombs, which can be aimed at moving targets, O'Hanlon said.

There is also the question, he added, as to how often the United States will be at war over the next decade to justify producing 900 Tomahawks a year.