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'Reform' Budget Marks Afghan Shift

The first defense budget of the Obama administration clearly demonstrates its shift in priorities from Iraq to Afghanistan and from conventional forces to irregular warfare. It also, in the words of the Defense Department's comptroller, marks the start of the closing of the spigot of defense spending.

An early reading of the administration's budget documents, released Thursday reveals that the biggest policy shift is the movement of money from Iraq operations to those supporting Afghanistan, combined with the decision to move war funding into the base budget. All this has even given birth to a new acronym: OCO, for Overseas Contingency Operations. This is the money for what we used to call the Global War on Terror and was included in the many enormous supplemental spending bills submitted by the Bush administration.

In 2009, funding was pretty evenly split  ($700 million each)  between Iraq and Afghanistan, said Vice Adm. Steve Stanley, Joint Staff director of force structure, resources and assessment. that has shifted this year, with Afghanistan to get $1.2 billion of the funding. Of course, most of the OCO money goes to pay for the cost of US troops and their operations. One other thing that has changed this year. The administration will not declare the war an emergency, barring it from requesting money in a supplemental. The OCO justification document puts the reasons in a nutshell: "In Iraq, the United States will see through the responsible drawdown of forces, building on Iraq's improved yet fragile security gains.  In Afghanistan, new efforts will bring to bear the coordinated efforts of the U.S. and its allies, and will support Pakistan in denying safe haven to the extremists that threaten the democratic government in Islamabad, our regional partners, and the U.S. homeland.

[For those who want to follow along, here are links to the comptroller's briefing,  a justification booklet that provides a detailed overview, and for the hard core budgeteers among us -- the RDT and E and the procurement (P-1) numbers.]

The budget's growth is smaller than last year, even though it now includes most of the funding for the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. OSD Comptroller Robert Hale said at the Thursday briefing that recent Pentagon budgets had grown by 4 percent while this one grows by roughly 2 percent, after adjustment for inflation. Although much of the focus on this budget has focused on the unprecedented number of major program cancellations announced by Defense Secretary Robert Gates it actually requests more for procurement, which would rise some 5.6 percent over last year.

Hale pushed the idea that this is a "reform budget," one that was "crafted to reshape the priorities of America's defense establishment." In addtion to folding war funding into the base budget and boosting money to care for those who have served, it  proposes more program terminations than have been offered at least since the end of the Cold War. As already outlined by Gates on April 6, it would: end production of the C-17 cargo plane; end production of the F-22; design and development of the $19 billion Transformational Satellite program; eliminate the $87 billion Manned Ground Vehicle portion of the Future Combat System; end the program of record known as CSAR-X; kill the presidential helicopter. Hale also said at the briefing that the Kinetic Energy Interceptor was cancelled, part of $1.2 billion in funding cut to the missile defense program.

But as has been reported before, while some programs were killed, much money is given back. The F-35 fighter, Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite, the Littoral Combat Ship are all major winners in this budget.

And the rescue capability of CSAR-X, although the program of record has been killed, will live on in a new form. Adm. Hale said that it would become a joint program: "We might be able to use aircraft we already have, for example the V-22." Hall said no kill fee has been set yet for CSAR-X or for any of the other programs facing termination.

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