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Defense Budget Highest Since the End of WW2. AF seeks $18B more
Stars and Stripes
By Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes
February 29, 2008

WASHINGTON — Air Force officials believe they need $18 billion beyond their base budget next year to pay for critical programs, but members of Congress are concerned about the already hefty military price tag planned for coming years.

The fiscal 2009 budget proposal for the Air Force already tops $117 billion, a 7.9 percent increase from fiscal 2008. Earlier this month, Pentagon planners unveiled a $515 billion Defense budget for fiscal 2009, the highest since the end of World War II when adjusted for inflation.

That doesn't include funds for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which will be handled in later supplemental budget requests. And those funds don't include nearly $30 billion in unfunded priorities detailed by each of the services to Congress last week.

Most of the Army and Marine Corps requests, totaling almost $7 billion, focus on reset and replacement of equipment used in combat operations overseas.

But the Air Force's list includes more than 160 new aircraft, acceleration research and development schedules on several planes, and billions in upgrades to existing equipment — all projects service officials say are long overdue for their aging fleet.

"The dilemma we have been in with the 'holiday' on aircraft procurement is affecting us in many ways," Gen. Michael Moseley, Air Force Chief of Staff, told members of the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

"By flying these older planes longer, the cost per flying hour goes up, the break rates go up, you need more maintenance and crew fees."

Members of the committee promised to find ways to get some of the extra money to the service, to ensure the country's air superiority.

But across Capitol Hill, members of the House Budget Committee debated whether increasing military spending has eliminated any hope of balancing the national budget in the next decade.

Chairman John Spratt Jr., D-S.C., said even with a hypothetical reduction in U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to around 75,000 by 2013, operations in those two countries will likely cost the U.S. more than $1 trillion in the next decade.

He criticized the Defense Department's decision not to include the cost of combat operations in the base budget, saying it limits lawmakers' ability to balance all military needs with fiscal responsibility.

"We need better numbers," he said. "We need a good, firm basis to work from is we are indeed genuine about getting this budget on a sustainable course."

Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England responded that Defense officials have not had a stable budget over the years from which to work, creating a series of cutbacks and buildups over the last 40 years.

He advocated setting aside a specific percentage of the country's gross domestic product for military spending; Republicans in the House in recent years have pushed for a 4 percent promise from Congress for defense funding.

"We know that $515 billion is a lot of money," England told the committee. "But that's what it takes to defend this country."

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