| WASHINGTON, March 3
WASHINGTON, March 3 Concerns that cuts in
defense spending could erode the U.S. military's technological
edge over rivals such as Russia and China are in part driving
the Pentagon's plans to slash troop levels and retire aging
U.S. defense officials have watched in recent years as
Moscow and Beijing have tested a string of sophisticated
weapons, from radar-evading aircraft and anti-ship missiles that
fly many times the speed of sound, to integrated air defenses.
"The development and proliferation of more advanced
military technologies by other nations means that we are
entering an era where American dominance on the seas, in the
skies, and in space can no longer be taken for granted," Defense
Secretary Chuck Hagel said last week.
Hagel will unveil a 2015 budget on Tuesday that includes
cutting the Army by 40,000 to 50,000 troops to levels last seen
before the United States entered World War Two and killing off
the fleet of tank-killing A-10 "Warthog" aircraft.
The venerable U-2 spy plane from the Cold War era will be
retired to allow the Pentagon to focus on developing the
unmanned Global Hawk reconnaissance drone.
While the Defense Department's spending of around $500
billion is still more than the next six or seven countries
combined, research and development spending has fallen more than
20 percent since President Barack Obama took office.
It is expected to continue dropping as congressionally
mandated budget caps force further belt-tightening in the coming
"Everything, including R&D (research and development) and
S&T (science and technology), takes a big hit in this defense
budget," said Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst at the
conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank.
In contrast, China and Russia have been rapidly increasing
their security spending and have passed new technological
milestones in recent years.
The role of Russia's emboldened military in the current
Ukraine crisis is another reminder to the United States that
Moscow remains a formidable adversary.
IHS Jane's Annual Defense Budgets Review estimated in
February that China's defense spending would grow by 14 percent
this year to nearly $160 billion in another double-digit
percentage jump, while Russia's would rise more than 40 percent
to nearly $98 billion by 2016.
China has tested two radar-evading aircraft since 2011. It
launched its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, in 2011 based
on a Soviet-era hull purchased from Ukraine, and has begun
building what Chinese media said earlier this year would be the
first of four indigenous aircraft carriers.
It demonstrated an anti-satellite weapon in 2007, showing it
could even put U.S. reconnaissance and communications systems in
space at risk.
In a breakthrough, Beijing conducted a hypersonic glider
flight in January, testing a system capable of delivering a
missile to its target flying several times the speed of sound to
elude anti-missile defenses.
The United States, Russia and India are all said to be
working on the hypersonic technology, but only Washington and
Beijing have conducted test flights.
China, Iran and Russia are also developing precision
anti-ship missiles, so-called anti-access, area denial weapons,
that can threaten potential adversaries that try to operate near
Those advances and the export of precision-guided weapons
and integrated air defenses to other nations is forcing the U.S.
Navy to adapt by developing the ability to operate further from
shore with longer-range weapons.
"The United States has enjoyed a monopoly in guided weapons
for about 20 years," said Robert Work, the former Navy
undersecretary nominated to be the deputy defense secretary.
"That monopoly is eroding," Work told Congress in his
nomination hearing last week. But some Pentagon-watchers see no
need for panic.
Lawrence Korb, a defense analyst with the liberal Center for
American Progress think tank, said the rhetoric about losing the
technological edge was part of selling the Pentagon's proposed
changes to Congress.
"It's not a serious threat," Korb said. "The point they're
trying to make is that if you don't do something about ... the
spiraling personnel costs, then you could (face a serious
To keep the technology gap in America's favor, the Pentagon
will push ahead with a new long-range bomber that to a certain
extent counters rivals' anti-access, area denial systems by
enabling U.S. forces to operate from greater range.
The Pentagon is looking to buy up to 100 of the new planes
for no more than $550 million apiece and is expected to seek
proposals for the aircraft this autumn.
Retiring the A-10 plane would free up $3.5 billion over five
years that could be used to ensure continued funding for the
radar-evading F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a multi-role aircraft
being developed to replace a wide range of other warplanes.
The F-35 is currently being produced in small lots, but the
military expects over time to buy 2,443 of the aircraft at a
cost of some $392 billion.
Defense officials say the 2015 budget, which comes into
force in October, includes funds to expand the military's
defensive and offensive cyber capabilities, which are seen as
critical to protecting the military's computer networks and
engaging opposing forces in future war.
Navy officials say they also expect funds for continuing
research on laser weapons, like one that is to be deployed on
the USS Ponce this year, and a project to build a gun that uses
electromagnetic energy to fire projectiles.
The Navy has spent about $40 million so far developing the
laser weapon, which can be used against drones or missiles or a
swarm of small boats.
It emits a pulse of energy and is cheap to use, giving the
military "a technological edge that has a huge affordability
piece to it," said Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, chief of naval
"That resonates in the building," he said. "This is one of
those priorities that we are going to still fund."