Carter at China Lake: DoD Spending Big Money on Munitions
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter traveled to the naval weapons base at China Lake, California, and made a renewed pitch for his funding proposal in preparation for next week’s showdown with lawmakers over budget priorities.
Carter made naval firepower a centerpiece of the $582.7 billion fiscal year 2017 budget request so it is no accident that he chose to visit the Naval Air Station that was the cradle of some of the nation’s most storied weapons, including the Sidewinder air-to-air missile, the Joint Stand-Off Weapon and the Joint Direct Attack Munition.
The emphasis on high-end munitions is part of Carter’s larger plan to modernize the Pentagon’s aging inventory, and he is insistent that this year’s budget is moving the military in that direction.
“It is important that you have ships and aircraft that have the very best weapons,” Carter told reporters Feb. 2 during a tour of China Lake. The goal is to “multiply the capability of our individual ships and aircraft and actually submarines … so that we have not only the best platforms, but they have the highest-end capability.”
The budget request includes $8.1 billion for undersea and anti-submarine warfare capabilities. Over the next five years, the Pentagon plans to spend $40 billion on advanced payloads and munitions; unmanned underwater vehicles; advanced maritime patrol aircraft; and nine Virginia-class attack submarines, some of which will be equipped with the Virginia Payload Module, which increases the platform’s strike capacity from 12 Tomahawk cruise missiles to 40.
Tomahawks are tested at China Lake, Carter said. “So this place has been part of that program from the very beginning.”
Carter said there is $2 billion in the five-year budget to acquire 4,000 Tomahawks. “We need to make sure we fill the tubes on our submarines and our surface ships with the very best and the newest. And lots of Tomahawks.”
The newest versions will be more adaptable to different combat scenarios, he said. “We want to diversify the kinds of targets that they can hit, from land attack, which is probably how you first met the Tomahawk many years ago, to an anti-ship version so that we continue to diversify our suite of anti-ship missiles,” said Carter. “Again, this is in the spirit of making everything we have lethal.”
The Navy also is testing a long-range anti-ship missile at China Lake called LRASM. The budget includes $927 million over five years for this missile. And there is $418 million for extended range anti-radiation homing missiles.
“The point is that these are large investments in the strategic future at the high end,” he said. “And that’s going to be important as we focus once again on the full spectrum of threats.”
When he returns to Washington next week to present the budget to Congress, Carter will face a barrage of incoming fire from Republican lawmakers who already have blasted the funding proposal as inadequate for the military to take on increasingly sophisticated adversaries.
A potential showdown with the Obama administration will be over the use of “overseas contingency operations” funds — created to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — to pay for activities and programs that have little to do with those wars. The administration has criticized the use of contingency war budgets as a gimmick that allows the Pentagon to break legally mandated spending caps and lets Congress off the hook for not raising those caps.
The 2017 request includes $59 billion for OCO. In 2016, nearly $30 billion of the $58.8 billion OCO funding paid for base budget costs. Defense committee leaders will argue that the $59 billion agreed in the October 2015 budget deal is a floor, not a ceiling.
During a question-and-answer session with reporters, Carter stood by the administration’s position that the $59 billion is a firm number that Congress agreed to. “That number was set, as was our budget, in the bipartisan budget agreement,” he said. “It’s in the nature of budgeting in general that you have to make hard choices and you have to make hard tradeoffs.” But Carter would not completely rule out the possibility that a higher OCO amount might be needed.
He noted that OCO is “by definition a variable fund that depends upon what you do in the course of a year. And that has been so for a number of years when there’s been an OCO budget.” In the past, the Department of Defense has “ended up spending more than it originally asked for,” he said. “Sometimes it has ended up spending less. … That’s in the nature of not knowing exactly.” Congress, he added, “has always recognized reality. … When we need less than we said, they take the money away. And I don’t have a problem with that. But I would think that if we needed more they’d respect that as well.”