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NEW RESEARCH GROUP URGES REVAMPED U.S. DEFENSE SPENDING

29 Jan 04. A group headed by Bill Clinton’s last White House chief of staff called Thursday for halving U.S. ballistic missile-defense spending, scrapping F/A-22 fighter program and killing the most advanced submarine-building project to pay for a larger army and a revamped war on terror.

The recommendations by the Center for American Progress, a newly formed progressive research institute, could influence the eventual Democratic challenger to President Bush, a Republican, in the November election.In a report titled Six Steps to a Safer America, the group headed by John Podesta, chief of staff from October 1998 until Bush took office in January 2001, urged boosting the army’s current 10 active-duty divisions to 12 and fielding a division devoted to “stabilization and reconstruction.”

“Given the administration’s decision to invade Iraq — a ‘war of choice’ without adequate international involvement or support — the U.S. Army cannot meet all of its commitments without ‘breaking the force’,” said the report authored by Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the center who was an assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan. Strained by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the army will boost its forces by 30,000 through emergency authority it expects to last four years, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker told Congress on Wednesday.

To pay for a bigger permanent army and other suggestions that Podesta’s group said would add $10 billion to the budget Bush is to send to Congress on Monday, Korb and his colleagues identified offsets totaling $12 billion a year.

They said funding for missile defense, the Pentagon’s costliest weapons program, could be halved from a projected level of $10 billion to $5 billion.

“Continue a robust research and development program on a limited national missile defense capability, but postpone operational decisions, including deployment in Alaska and California, until the technology is fully tested and proven effective,” the report said.

Bush has ordered a rudimentary, ground-based shield built by Boeing Co. be operational by Sept. 30, though the Pentagon’s top weapons tester voiced doubts last week about whether the system was being tested enough before its planned deployment. Podesta’s group said killing the Virginia-class submarine program, under which production is to be shared by General Dynamics Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp., would save another $2 billion annually. Canceling the F/A-22, “which is behind schedule, over budget and plagued by technical problems,” would free up at least $3 billion a year to pay for higher priorities, the center said. The fighter is being built by Lockheed Martin Corp. In an annual review of arms programs last week, Thomas Christie, the Pentagon’s top weapons evaluator, said software instabilities and problems with the communications, navigation and electronic warfare subsystems had “seriously hampered progress” of the F/A-22’s avionics flight test program.

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