What the massive US military budget pays for
When President Donald Trump signed the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill on Friday, he approved what his administration calls the largest military budget in US history, $700 billion.
The military budget approved on Friday is packed with funding for new weapons as well as upgrades for older systems.
On Tuesday, CNN reported that Trump has privately floated the idea of using that military budget to fund construction of a border wall with Mexico. Trump discussed that idea in a private meeting last week with House Speaker Paul Ryan, a source familiar with the conversations said, as he reviewed the omnibus spending bill, which does not include funding for construction of a wall.
It was not immediately clear how serious Trump was about pursuing this option, but the move would likely face steep hurdles with appropriators in Congress.
Trump said the military spending was one of the major reasons he signed the bill, which had earlier threatened to veto.
“Our military is very depleted, but it’s rapidly getting better. And in a short period of time it will be stronger than it has ever been,” Trump said, touting some weapons systems as the best the world has ever seen.
“We in the military are humbled and grateful to the American people for their sacrifices on behalf of this funding,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis said. “Now it’s our responsibility in the military to spend every dollar wisely in order to keep the trust and the confidence of the American people and the Congress.”
In the cases of several items, Congress gave the Pentagon even more than it asked for.
Here are some of the highlights of what US taxpayers are getting for their $700 billion.
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
The Pentagon asked for 70 of the stealth jets, which come in three versions for the Air Force, Marines and Navy, at a cost of $10.8 billion. Congress threw in $2.9 billion more to add 20 of the jets to the order. Trump calls the F-35 “the most sophisticated aircraft in the world,” but questions remain over its effectiveness, with the Project on Government Oversight reporting the 235 F-35s now in service are only fully mission capable 26% of the time.
F/A-18 Super Hornet
The twin-engine jet is the mainstay of Navy and Marine Corps aviation, and the Pentagon asked for 14 of them at a cost of $1.3 billion. Congress added 10 more for an additional $739 million. The F/A-18 fleet has been pushed by high operational demand, and in February 2017, the Navy said nearly two-thirds of its F/A-18s were grounded by repair delays and a lack of spare parts.
AH-64 Apache helicopter
Boeing says the Apache is the most advanced multi-role helicopter in the world, definitely music to the President’s ears. Congress likes them a lot too, granting the Pentagon’s request for 63 of the choppers at $1.4 billion and adding $577 million to the budget to put 17 more in the US Army’s inventory.
UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter
The Pentagon asked for 48 of the Black Hawks, the US Army’s primary platform for tactical transport and air assault. Congress funded that $1.1 billion request and added $108 million for eight more Black Hawks to go to Army National Guard units. It also added $400 million for eight units of the Navy’s version of the UH-60, the MH-60R Seahawk, which the Navy uses for anti-submarine warfare.
Ford-class aircraft carrier
The budget provides $4.5 billion for construction of a Ford-class aircraft carrier, the most expensive and sophisticated warships in the world. The USS Gerald R Ford, the lead ship in the class, was commissioned last year after amassing $13 billion in construction costs. The second Ford-class carrier, the USS John F. Kennedy, is under construction and the first steel has been cut for the third, the USS Enterprise. But the Ford may not be combat-ready for several years as the Navy tests and integrates its systems.
Littoral combat ship
Two of the $430 million, shallow draft ships were included in the Pentagon’s budget request, but Congress put in money for three. The LCS, designed to operate close to shore and get into places where bigger ships can’t, comes in trimaran and monohull versions. The program has been plagued by embarrassing mechanical failures to the ship’s propulsion systems.
Arleigh Burke-class destroyer
The Navy asked for and got $4 billion for two of the guided-missile destroyers, the backbone of its fleet. Arleigh Burke-class destroyers made headlines in 2017 when two of them, the USS Fitzgerald and USS John McCain, were involved in deadly collisions with cargo ships off Japan and Singapore, resulting in the deaths of 17 US sailors. Those two ships are under repair and the two ships in the latest budget will be additions to the fleet. Besides naval combat duties, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are equipped with the Aegis missile defense system, an important tool in protecting the United States and its allies from ballistic missile attacks.
SM-3 Block IB missile interceptors
Congress added $178 million to the Pentagon’s $454 million request for the interceptors, the sharp end of the Aegis missile defense system. The interceptors cost about $15 million each. “We are spending tremendous money on missile defense,” Trump said Friday. The Navy has been testing newer, longer range versions of the SM-3 interceptor, but the most recent test off Hawaii in January failed.
The budget provides $5.5 billion for two of the nuclear-powered attack submarines, which can carry Tomahawk missiles to hit land targets and MK48 torpedoes for targets at sea. The Navy has 13 Virginia-class subs on duty with another 15 under construction or on order. When one of the Virginia-class subs, the USS South Dakota, was christened last year, the Navy touted its stealthy characteristics as crucial as adversaries such as China and Russia make improvements to their navies.
Trump raved about the tankers on Friday, saying they “allow our planes to travel anywhere in the world without landing.” While that may be a bit of hyperbole, keeping combat aircraft on station over the battlefield is a big deal so they can react to support requests quickly. Congress is giving the Air Force money for 18 of the twin-engine jets (the service asked for 15), or about $3.6 billion.
Congress allocated $103 million for upgraded wings for the veteran ground-attack aircraft, which have proved vital in fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq and have recently been deployed to Afghanistan. The Air Force said last year the money would be used to reopen a Boeing production line for the A-10 wings as well as funding wings for four planes. There are 283 A-10s in the Air Force fleet, but the service said about 40 would need to be grounded in the next three years unless new wings became available. The twin-engine jets first entered service in 1977.
The P-8A is the US Navy’s most-advanced submarine-hunting and surveillance aircraft. Congress saw fit to pony up $2.1 billion for 10 of the aircraft, three units and $501 million more than the Pentagon asked for. P-8As have been in the headlines several times in the past several years, being the targets of intercepts by both Chinese and Russian jets as well as participating in searches for a missing Argentinian submarine and the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
By Brad Lendon, CNN