Bush mulls $439.3 billion defense budget

Staff and wire reports

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon Friday announced plans to significantly increase special operations forces, expand psychological warfare and develop a program to counter biological terrorism as part of a new broadbased military strategy for the 21st century.

The plan comes three days before President Bush sends Congress a 2007 budget that seeks a nearly 5 percent increase in Defense Department spending, to $439.3 billion, with significantly more for weapons programs, according to senior Pentagon officials and documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Under the long-range plan released Friday, called the Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon will increase special operations forces by 15 percent, including the establishment for the first time of a Marine Corps commando unit. And there will be a one-third increase in troops assigned to psychological warfare units.

A member of a local Cannon Air Force Base advocate group, Randy Harris, said the investment in special operations forces bodes well for Cannon, a base in search of a mission. He said the budget inflation doesn’t necessarily mean a special operations mission will come to Cannon, but it does mean military operations and expansions remain a government priority.

“Any increase in spending in any area … to do with the military will be of benefit to Cannon Air Force Base,” Harris said. “No matter what the mission might be. An announcement of cut would cause us concerns.”

The Air Force assessment of Cannon Air Force Base, which Harris compared to a “real estate brochure, should be released next week, Harris said. It’s release will likely speed up the process of securing a mission for Cannon, according to base advocates.

He did not dismiss the possibility of discussions involving a mission from Tyndall Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle, which conducts special operations.

Capt. Kok of the Cannon Public Affairs Office said he is not aware of any contact between Tyndall and Cannon in regards to mission relocation possibilities.

The proposed budget also will be a new $1.5 billion program to develop medical countermeasures for bioterrorism threats.

The plan will reduce the number of Minuteman III land-based nuclear missiles from 500 to 450, and calls for the conversion of a small number of nuclear missiles aboard Trident submarines to non-nuclear ballistic missiles.

The long-range strategy document, more than a year in the making, outlines broad plans to reshape the military into a more agile fighting force better able to fight terrorism, in what the document calls the Long War, while still preserving the ability to wage large conventional wars. The review, which does not call for the elimination of any of the largest weapons programs, as initially expected, will guide how dollars are spent within the Pentagon budget.

“Now in the fifth year of this global war, the ideas and proposals in this document are provided as a roadmap for change, leading to victory,” said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in a letter accompanying the document. This represents the second four-year review that Rumsfeld has led during his tenure heading the department.