Pentagon To Release Next Year's Budget

Correction April 6, 2009

In some broadcasts, we said the attack on the USS Cole took place "in the 1990s." In fact, the bombing occurred on Oct. 12, 2000.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is scheduled to announce his proposal for next year's military budget on Monday. This represents the Obama administration's first chance to change the way the Pentagon spends its billions. Details of the budget remain under wraps.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

And I'm Ari Shapiro.

This afternoon, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates plans to announce his proposal for next year's military budget. This is the Obama administration's first chance to change the way the Pentagon spends billions of dollars. While the details of the budget remain under wraps, there will be some big cuts of some high-profile weapons. NPR's Pentagon correspondent J.J. Sutherland has been reporting the story and he joins us now in the studio.

Good morning, J.J.

J.J. SUTHERLAND: Good morning, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Ok. So which programs are on the chopping block?

SUTHERLAND: Well, we don't know for absolute sure, because this has been done under incredible secrecy. But the people I've been talking to said some really high-profile weapons such as a new Stealth destroyer the Navy is building. High-tech vehicles and weapons for the Army and missile defense might all be on the chopping block, but we really don't know exactly what's going to happen.

SHAPIRO: Well, how much in cuts are we talking about in terms of dollars?

SUTHERLAND: Well, that's an interesting question. The military wanted $584 billion. They're going to get $534 billion. However, that's still an increase over last year. So they're cutting money, but they're spending more money.

SHAPIRO: So when we say there are cuts to the Pentagon's budget, what we really mean is there is an increase in the Pentagon's budget smaller than the increase that they had asked for.

SUTHERLAND: Exactly. And this also does not include the supplementals that pay for the wars in the Iraq and Afghanistan.

SHAPIRO: What's the strategy behind this?

SUTHERLAND: Well, the strategy is, President Obama and Secretary Gates really want to reshape the military. They want to move it towards focusing on the wars we're in, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and likely future conflicts rather than conflicts in the future that'd be high tech, you know, state-on-state things.

But the interesting part is they haven't done what the military calls a quadrennial defense review, which is in every four years they do a grand strategic framework. And that's going to happen this summer. So there isn't a voiced strategy, but there is sort of this refocusing idea.

SHAPIRO: And after the quadrennial defense review this summer, there may be yet more changes, I suppose.

SUTHERLAND: Well, it's Congress's turn after that. And what happens is, the Congress is much more worried about the programs that, you know, give states -the people in their states jobs. And so, for example, what they call political engineering is what's going on. The F-22 Raptor fighter plane, the Air Force's advanced plane, is built in 44 states. And so that's a lot of friends in Congress come budget time.

SHAPIRO: So if I'm a member of Congress, I may want to see the Pentagon cut its spending, but I don't want to see it cut its spending in the state that I represent?

SUTHERLAND: Exactly.

SHAPIRO: Well, on a sadder note, last night, the body of an airman was returned to the United States, and for the first time in years the media was allowed to cover it. Tell me a little bit about this.

SUTHERLAND: Well, that's right. The Obama administration has overturned an 18-year-old ban on covering - on media covering the return of fallen troops to the United States, which happens in Dover, Delaware. Last night, the body of Staff Sergeant Phillip Myers arrived there. He was 30 years old. He was from Hopewell, Virginia. He died in an explosion in Kandahar - not in Kandahar - in Helmand Province yesterday - or Saturday in Afghanistan.

SHAPIRO: And I understand that in order to cover the coffin returning, the media had to get permission from the family of this fallen airman.

SUTHERLAND: Exactly. That's what the administration's trying to do to be sensitive to the family's needs for privacy, so each family individually has to say yes or no to the media coverage.

SHAPIRO: And this ban was lifted for the first time in 18 years.

SUTHERLAND: Yes. There was some exceptions - when the Cole bombing happened.

SHAPIRO: That's the USS Cole.

SUTHERLAND: The USS Cole. But this is certainly the first time it's happened during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over 4,000 troops have died during those wars.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Pentagon correspondent J.J. Sutherland, with a preview of the Pentagon's proposed budget coming out this afternoon.

Thanks a lot, J.J.

SUTHERLAND: Thank you, Ari.

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