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US to trim missile budget, induct more drones

world Updated: Apr 07, 2009 23:21 IST
V Krishna

Defence Secretary Robert Gates wants to redirect US military spending from conventional warfare of the Cold War era, like missile defence, to contemporary needs like counterterrorism.

To this end, he has proposed cutting a number of big-ticket weapons programmes while raising funding for drones, special forces and regular troops and medical care.

“This is a reform budget, reflecting lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan yet also addressing the range of other potential threats around the world now and in the future,” Gates said at a press conference on Monday.

If his proposals are approved, the Pentagon would buy only four more F-22 Raptor fighter jets, which cost $143 million each. The planes haven’t been used in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

The VH-71 presidential helicopter programme, estimated to cost over $13 billion, would be scrapped. The Army's Future Combat Systems vehicle project would go the same way, saving $87 billion. The strategic missile defence program would be cut.

With a $2 billion boost for surveillance and reconnaissance equipment, 50 more Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles would be bought. The drones, which can launch missile attacks, have been used in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“I hope the members of Congress will rise above parochial interests and consider what is in the best interest of the nation,” Gates said.

But with thousands of jobs at stake during a deep recession, the reaction was strong.

“The buck stops with Congress, which has the critical constitutional responsibility to decide whether to support these proposals,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, a Democrat from Missouri.

Gates' budget for the 2010 financial year totals $534 billion. The 2009 budget was $513 billion.