U.S. defense budget focuses on changing security environment: Carter

WASHINGTON/NAVAL AIR WEAPONS STATION CHINA LAKE, Calif. (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Tuesday the Pentagon would seek a $582.7 billion defense budget next year and reshape spending priorities to reflect a new strategic environment marked by Russian assertiveness and the rise of Islamic State.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks at the Economic Club of Washington winter breakfast in Washington, February 2, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Carter, speaking to the Economic Club of Washington, said the funding request was in line with last year’s congressional budget deal, with a clear focus on five big challenges facing the U.S. military: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and Islamic State.

“Today’s security environment is dramatically different than the one we’ve been engaged with for the last 25 years and it requires new ways of thinking and new ways of acting,” he said.

Carter’s remarks came a week ahead of the formal rollout of the administration’s budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, providing a preview of what remains by far the largest military budget in the world.

He told reporters during a visit to a California naval base that the budget plan focused on higher-end weapons spending to maintain the U.S. military’s competitive edge over countries like Russia and China, which are expanding their militaries.

The proposal drew immediate fire from Republicans, who railed against President Barack Obama’s failure to request more funding to defeat Islamic State.

Carter told reporters the administration had budgeted $7.5 billion for an accelerated fight against the militant group, 50 percent more than this year, and would seek further war funding later if needed.

He said the United States has used so many smart bombs and laser-guided rockets against the militants in Iraq and Syria that it is running low on the weapons and needs to invest $1.8 billion for 45,000 more.

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Carter said the Pentagon would ask for $3.4 billion to boost military training and exercises aimed at reassuring European countries concerned about Russia, which seized Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and has worried NATO allies with its strategic bomber flights.

Obama said in a statement the request, a four-fold increase from last year’s $789 million, would enable the United States to strengthen the U.S. military posture in Europe. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called the move a “clear sign” of the U.S. commitment to European security.

Carter also voiced concern about China’s military intentions. Beijing has been rapidly developing missiles and other weapons that could force the U.S. military to operate farther from shore in the case of a conflict.

“Key to our approach is being able to deter our most advanced competitors,” he said. “We must have - and be seen to have - the ability to impose unacceptable costs on an advanced aggressor.”

To build upon the U.S. military’s technological superiority, Carter said the Defense Department planned to invest $71.4 billion next year in research and development, much of it aimed at boosting strategic capabilities.

The military has been developing drone aircraft and boats that are capable of swarming an adversary, preventing it from threatening U.S. warships and jets.

He said the Pentagon also would spend $8.1 billion on undersea warfare in fiscal 2017 and more than $40 billion in the next five years.

Carter later flew to Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California to get updates on new high-end weapons being developed and tested there, including precision Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles built by Lockheed Martin Corp LMT.N.

He said the department would spend nearly $1 billion over the next five years to buy the new missiles.

The Pentagon also plans to spend about $2 billion over the next five years to buy more Raytheon Co RTN.N Tomahawk missiles and upgrade their capabilities, bringing the U.S. inventory of the missiles to above 4,000, Carter said.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif.; David Alexander and Roberta Rampton in Washington; and Robin Emmott in Brussels; Editing by Bill Trott and Andrew Hay