Navy’s a loser in the Pentagon’s new budget

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government released its proposed $4 trillion budget for fiscal 2017 on Tuesday, and the Pentagon’s slice of the pie is about $582.7 billion. That represents about a 1 percent increase over the $580.3 billion budget for fiscal 2016 at a time when the U.S. military is balancing operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, aggressive actions by Russia and China and the modernization of a force that has been at war since 2001.

According to official documents, the Pentagon’s proposal calls for the Air Force to get the largest funding boost from last year, from $161.8 billion to $166.9 billion. The Army’s funding also will get a boost, from $146.9 billion to $148 billion. However, the Navy Department will face a reduction from $168.8 billion to $164.9 billion. Those numbers count both the base budgets and $58.8 billion in overseas contingency operations funding, which goes toward current operations like the fight against the Islamic State. An additional $102.9 billion is set aside in a department-wide category.

Overall, the Pentagon budget seeks to strike a compromise between providing more of what the Defense Department needs now, like precision-guided bombs to strike the Islamic State, and costly long-term programs, like the $55 billion Long Range Strike Bomber that the Air Force wants to eventually replace the B-52 Stratofortress and other aging bombers.

Assessing the winners and the losers in the budget requires looking at individual programs, however. To that end, here’s an initial look at what’s proposed:

Winner: The Air Force

The Air Force got the biggest boost in the proposed budget, and will be able to not only modernize aging aircraft like the F-15C Eagle and F-15D, but seek the development of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, nuclear missiles that would replace the aging Minuteman III missiles that are based in silos across the American heartland.

The Air Force didn’t get everything it wanted. Production of the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, for example, will be slowed down. Top service officials also did not want to keep A-10 “Warthog” attack plane last year, but have decided to push off its retirement for at least two years due to the high demand for airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.

Loser: The Navy

The sea services took the biggest hit in the Pentagon’s budget proposal. The Navy Department’s base budget for fiscal 2017 will be $155.4 billion, a decrease of $8.2 billion over last fiscal year, according to budget documents.

Notably, that includes Defense Secretary Ashton Carter curtailing production of the Littoral Combat Ship from 52 to 40, something first reported in December. But it also includes the Navy getting rid of a full carrier air wing that was temporarily deactivated in 2013, dropping the total number of carrier wings in the Navy to 10.

Loser: The Army

The Army got an overall funding bump of about $1 billion in the new budget, but is still in the midst of a decline in which the service will be reduced from 490,000 soldiers to 450,000 by the end of 2018. Service leaders have warned repeatedly that the Pentagon should rethink that plan, in light of Russia’s aggressive actions and continued operations against the Islamic State, but the Defense Department shows no signs of reversing next year.

The new proposed Army budget includes about $125.1 billion in the base budget, down from the $126.5 billion that was approved last year. But it calls for the service to receive $23 billion in overseas contingency operations funds, up from the $21.1 billion it will receive in 2016.

The 2017 budget request for the Army does help with aviation, however: It calls for the service to receive $923 million to buy new Black Hawk helicopters, including 21 standard UH-60M Black Hawks and 15 HH-60M Black Hawks for medical evacuation. It also calls for the service to receive 52 refurbished AH-64E Apache helicopters for $1.1 billion and 22 refurbished CH-47E Chinooks for $668 million.

Draw: The Marine Corps

The service mostly stayed out of the line of fire with the new budget, keeping the 182,000 troops it has planned for future years and funding for future modernization programs like the Amphibious Combat Vehicle, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, a variant of the plane that has the ability for short takeoffs and vertical landing.

Budget documents suggest the Marine Corps opted to keep its readiness as high as possible rather than pursue significant funding for modernization this year. That falls in line with the service’s culture, which emphasizes the ability to respond quickly to crises.

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