WASHINGTON — The Pentagon will use its substantial budget next year to modernize weapons systems, support allies abroad and cope with emerging challenges across the globe, Defense Department officials said Monday.
The emphasis is on deterrence.
Robert Scher, assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities, said that the agency’s “five evolving challenges” are counterterrorism and four troublesome countries — Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.
The Defense Department has proposed a budget of $583 billion for 2017, including increases in programs such as the European Reassurance Initiative. The reassurance initiative aims to show U.S. support for European allies in the face of potential Russian aggression in the region, such as its takeover of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
The 2017 proposal represents a nearly 2 percent increase from the $573 billion budgeted for defense in 2016.
“When Secretary (Ash) Carter got here, it was very clear that he assessed there was a new security environment,” Scher said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The strategic imperative is to deter, and if not deter, win the nation’s wars.”
The U.S. can upgrade its projection of global power through several programs, said Jamie Morin, director of cost assessment and program evaluation at the Defense Department.
The department has proposed investing more than $40 billion in undersea capabilities as one domain where U.S. forces are already the dominant power, Morin said.
Some of that investment will go toward technical improvements to the Navy’s Virgina-class attack submarines, tripling missile-firing ability, as well as moving toward adapting technologies like the Tomahawk missile for use in a variety of scenarios, he said.
For Benjamin Friedman, a defense analyst at the Cato Institute, there hasn’t really been a change in strategy by the Pentagon. The U.S. has always been interested in projecting power abroad, and the budget proposal arguably seeks to preserve that capability, Friedman said in a phone interview.
The budget proposal reflects the thinking behind the Pentagon’s “third offset strategy,” which seeks to provide the U.S. with a war-fighting advantage when facing a foe whose conventional warfare abilities match our own, Morin said.
However, Cato’s Friedman said calling the Pentagon’s plan an offset strategy is a misnomer. The first offset plan was created during the Cold War as a measure to combat the Soviet Union’s superior manpower with a large nuclear arsenal, he said, whereas the Pentagon in 2016 is mainly improving existing technologies.
Friedman, who believes the U.S. should pursue a more restrained foreign policy, said in most discussions offset has just come to mean a response to an enemy’s capability.
“To me, it’s the Chinese that have an offset strategy to combat our naval and air force ability with area denial,” he said.
China has begun to exert its claim over the South China Sea region, an area which is claimed by several other nations including U.S. allies like Japan. Earlier this year, the U.S. manned a freedom of navigation operation — essentially showing China that the U.S. does not recognize its claims by moving ships through the sea – that angered the Chinese.
Faced with adversaries, such as China, that have the ability to deny U.S. access to certain regions, the Pentagon must develop new ways to project power, Morin said.
“Adversaries and potential adversaries need to understand…the capabilities the U.S. can bring to bear if we need to defend allies and American interests,” he said. “That’s at the heart of global deterrence.”