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Bush seeks record military spending in 2009

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush asked Congress on Monday to spend at least $606.4 billion on the U.S. military in the next budget year, including nearly $184 billion that will bolster top U.S. contractors like Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co..

If approved by Congress it would be the 11th straight year of growth in military spending and would surpass World War II spending when adjusted for inflation.

The total includes $515.4 billion for the Defense Department’s baseline budget, $21 billion for Energy Department nuclear-weapons programs and an initial $70 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan in early fiscal 2009, which starts October 1.

The blueprint calls for boosting the size of the Army to 532,400 active duty troops, a jump of 7,000 over the current level, part of a multiyear plan to grow ground forces. Marine Corps strength would rise to 194,000 next year, up 5,000 from the number requested this year.

The request would fund “an agile, highly trained, and lethal fighting force... and sustain the United States’ technological advantage over current and potential enemies,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a statement.

The core Pentagon budget would rise $35.9 billion, or 7.5 percent in nominal terms and five percent adjusted for inflation, from the levels approved by Congress for fiscal 2008.

Of the total, $183.8 billion would go to military modernization, up $8.3 billion, or 4.7 percent, from this year’s approved level. But this would be $3.9 billion, or 2.1 percent, below projections by the Pentagon last year.

Some $104.2 billion would go for arms ranging from Lockheed and Boeing fighter jets, warships built by Northrop Grumman Corp and General Dynamics Corp, to missiles built by Raytheon Co.

The sum sought for weapons-buying was down $6.3 billion, or 5.7 percent, from the level that had been projected by the Pentagon a year ago, according to McAleese & Associates, a national security law firm in McLean, Virginia.

The budget for the Army, bearing the brunt of the wars, would rise 9.6 percent to $140.7 billion in 2009.

“This ‘migration’ of funds from procurement does not bode well for (the Pentagon’s) long-term modernization plans,” said Steven Kosiak, director of budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington.

To continue building a layered shield against ballistic missiles that could be fired by countries like Iran and North Korea, Bush sought $10.5 billion, an increase of 600 million.

The blueprint seeks $45.6 billion to purchase F-35, F-22, F/A-18 and V-22 aircraft along with remotely piloted drones and modernization of a slew of missiles.

Adding $102.5 billion in war spending that Bush has sought for 2008 but that Congress has not yet approved, Kosiak estimated defense outlays for fiscal 2009, including at least some of this sum, would top $675 billion.

By contrast, China’s announced military budget totaled less than one-tenth of this in 2007, at $46.7 billion, while Russia’s totaled $33 billion, according to figures compiled by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

As a share of the projected $15.2 trillion U.S. gross domestic product, U.S. military-related outlays of $675 billion in fiscal 2009 would total 4.4 percent of GDP, Kosiak estimated.

By comparison, U.S. military spending accounted for 14.2 percent of GDP in 1953 during the Korean War and 9.4 percent of GDP in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War, he said.

Editing by Tim Dobbyn

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