U.S. defense officials have watched in recent years as Moscow and
Beijing have tested a string of sophisticated weapons, from
radar-evading aircraft and anti-ship missiles that fly many times
the speed of sound, to integrated air defenses.
"The development and proliferation of more advanced military
technologies by other nations means that we are entering an era
where American dominance on the seas, in the skies, and in space can
no longer be taken for granted," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said
Hagel will unveil a 2015 budget on Tuesday that includes cutting the
Army by 40,000 to 50,000 troops to levels last seen before the
United States entered World War Two and killing off the fleet of
tank-killing A-10 "Warthog" aircraft.
The venerable U-2 spy plane from the Cold War era will be retired to
allow the Pentagon to focus on developing the unmanned Global Hawk
While the Defense Department's spending of around $500 billion is
still more than the next six or seven countries combined, research
and development spending has fallen more than 20 percent since
President Barack Obama took office.
It is expected to continue dropping as congressionally mandated
budget caps force further belt-tightening in the coming years.
"Everything, including R&D (research and development) and S&T
(science and technology), takes a big hit in this defense budget,"
said Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst at the conservative
American Enterprise Institute think tank.
In contrast, China and Russia have been rapidly increasing their
security spending and have passed new technological milestones in
The role of Russia's emboldened military in the current Ukraine
crisis is another reminder to the United States that Moscow remains
a formidable adversary.
IHS Jane's Annual Defense Budgets Review estimated in February that
China's defense spending would grow by 14 percent this year to
nearly $160 billion in another double-digit percentage jump, while
Russia's would rise more than 40 percent to nearly $98 billion by
China has tested two radar-evading aircraft since 2011. It launched
its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, in 2011 based on a
Soviet-era hull purchased from Ukraine, and has begun building what
Chinese media said earlier this year would be the first of four
indigenous aircraft carriers.
It demonstrated an anti-satellite weapon in 2007, showing it could
even put U.S. reconnaissance and communications systems in space at
In a breakthrough, Beijing conducted a hypersonic glider flight in
January, testing a system capable of delivering a missile to its
target flying several times the speed of sound to elude anti-missile
The United States, Russia and India are all said to be working on
the hypersonic technology, but only Washington and Beijing have
conducted test flights.
China, Iran and Russia are also developing precision anti-ship
missiles, so-called anti-access, area denial weapons, that can
threaten potential adversaries that try to operate near its
Those advances and the export of precision-guided weapons and
integrated air defenses to other nations is forcing the U.S. Navy to
adapt by developing the ability to operate further from shore with
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"The United States has enjoyed a monopoly in guided weapons for
about 20 years," said Robert Work, the former Navy undersecretary
nominated to be the deputy defense secretary.
"That monopoly is eroding," Work told Congress in his nomination
hearing last week. But some Pentagon-watchers see no need for panic.
Lawrence Korb, a defense analyst with the liberal Center for
American Progress think tank, said the rhetoric about losing the
technological edge was part of selling the Pentagon's proposed
changes to Congress.
"It's not a serious threat," Korb said. "The point they're trying to
make is that if you don't do something about ... the spiraling
personnel costs, then you could (face a serious threat)."
To keep the technology gap in America's favor, the Pentagon will
push ahead with a new long-range bomber that to a certain extent
counters rivals' anti-access, area denial systems by enabling U.S.
forces to operate from greater range.
The Pentagon is looking to buy up to 100 of the new planes for no
more than $550 million apiece and is expected to seek proposals for
the aircraft this autumn.
Retiring the A-10 plane would free up $3.5 billion over five years
that could be used to ensure continued funding for the radar-evading
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a multi-role aircraft being developed to
replace a wide range of other warplanes.
The F-35 is currently being produced in small lots, but the military
expects over time to buy 2,443 of the aircraft at a cost of some
Defense officials say the 2015 budget, which comes into force in
October, includes funds to expand the military's defensive and
offensive cyber capabilities, which are seen as critical to
protecting the military's computer networks and engaging opposing
forces in future war.
Navy officials say they also expect funds for continuing research on
laser weapons, like one that is to be deployed on the USS Ponce this
year, and a project to build a gun that uses electromagnetic energy
to fire projectiles.
The Navy has spent about $40 million so far developing the laser
weapon, which can be used against drones or missiles or a swarm of
It emits a pulse of energy and is cheap to use, giving the military
"a technological edge that has a huge affordability piece to it,"
said Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research.
"That resonates in the building," he said. "This is one of those
priorities that we are going to still fund."
(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal and Doina Chiacu;
Alistair Bell and Lisa Shumaker)
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