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US Senate approves $325.6 billion FY2010 defence budget

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It’s the old political game of distributing money for the right cause (in this particular case, the balance between jobs in industry, strategic requirements and troops’ requirements) with the almost certain outcome that not all involved parties will be satisfied, to say the least. 

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Voting 97 to 3, the Senate yesterday approved a $325.6 billion (€423.97 billion) defence budget for 2010, with its key provisions, as usual, remaining controversial as discussions continue over future defense spending.

What Strategy for Afghanistan?

Linked to the upcoming decision of the Obama administration for the future strategy of US forces in Afghanistan, the new defence budget so far envisions some $128 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This means spending on Afghanistan, since September 2001, will have risen to reach $300 billion (more than $700 billion has been spent for the war in Iraq). However, the figures for the FY2010 budget are expected to increase, depending on the future strategy.

President Barack Obama and his advisers are currently involved in a major effort to revamp US strategy in the war-torn country, where the general situation does not point to a positive outcome (whatever that may look like – especially for the local population). Caught between two stools – his commitment to Afghanistan and his election pledges – President Obama will have to make difficult decisions, largely based on the assessments of his Generals and his political staff. General Stanley McChrystal, the Commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, submitted his strategy assessment in late August (see also Since then, this proposal – calling for an increase in troops and a refocusing on the key aims in Afghanistan – is being intensely reviewed. Everybody seems to agree on establishing a new focus, however, the number of troops to be deployed in Afghanistan is hotly debated and stirs up shadows of the past.

When he took office in January, Obama vowed to send 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan this year, bringing U.S. forces to 68,000. The public support in the US for the war in Afghanistan, and more so concerning an increase of deployed forces, is shrinking. But according to Senator John McCain, McChrystal may be asking for as many as 40,000 additional soldiers to help finally bring stability to the ravaged country. Including the U.S. share, NATO so far leads a total of 103,000 troops from 42 nations fighting the war and training Afghan national security forces.

In the course of the next few days or weeks we will certainly learn more about what direction Obama will take in this matter. In respect to the sacrifices already made, it will hopefully not be the line of least resistance to merely appease public opinion. It would not be wise to further delay a decision to seriously tackle the obvious problems on the military as well as on the civil and political level in Afghanistan.

A fine line

Another controversy is the allocation of $2.5 billion for ten C-17 Globemaster heavy airlift planes that were not requested by the Air Force. This is regarded as being a significant concession to Boeing, as the decision to keep the production line open may save 5,000 jobs in the defence and aerospace industry. An amendment filed by Senator McCain to remove the C-17 programme from the defence budget was defeated last Tuesday. As the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) emphasised on Tuesday, the money is needed in other places such as the urgent requirements of US troops in Afghanistan. In a letter to the Senate, POGO called on each Senator to decide against supporting this funding and, rather, to use the money to enhance the safety and effectiveness of Special Forces’ "white missions" in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

A lack of heavy-lift helicopters in remote areas of those countries forces soldiers to use dangerous roads which are frequently mined with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or become locations for ambushes. The sad result could be seen and read about throughout the past years and the call for a significant increase of airlift capabilities , in principal, still remained unanswered.

According to a report by POLITICO, both the administration and Senate allies such as Senator Kit Bond are strongly supporting Boeing and Pratt & Whitney – clearly key players and large employers in the US – and the fact that the political decision for more C-17s is a significant concession that can’t be ignored. The same goes for the $3.65 billion to build two Navy destroyers, instead of the one requested.

F-22 out, F-35 alternate engine in

Nevertheless, the Senate bill has made cuts in the controversial F-22 fighter aircraft and the VH-71 presidential helicopter programs, with neither being funded in the new defence budget. The House of Representatives previously approved $485 million in funding for the VH-71 presidential helicopter, despite the programme’s stalemate. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in April that the programme has fallen six years behind schedule and runs the risk of not delivering the requested capability. Additionally, in late July, a White House spokesman stated that Obama would veto any spending measure that includes money for the presidential helicopters and the F-35 alternate engine.

Hence, no difficulties for the bill to receive presidential approval should be encountered in the matter of the VH-71. However, the competitive engine programme for the F-35 Lightning II has made it through the Senate. As US Representative Neil Abercrombie told “The concept of an alternate engine is simply to have another company ready to manufacture a second power plant for the F-35 if problems arise with the first.” (see And he further emphasised that the decision for two competing engine manufacturers would save the taxpayer a fair amount of money.

Now it all depends on Obama and his right to veto the Senate bill. However, it remains interesting that such a bill, still significantly funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, passed the Senate so easily with an unprecedented 93-7, despite the Democrats’ general rejection of any increasingly offensive strategy. It is quite a gamble to make any (financial) decision in this matter before even knowing the outcome of the administration’s restructuring of the Afghanistan strategy and the deduced requirements of the troops.

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