Statement by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Speakes on Proposed Defense Budget Reductions

May 15, 1986

The President today informed the Congress of his deep concern regarding large reductions in his proposed defense program recommended by the House Budget Committee. The committee has proposed that the President's request for defense budget authority in 1987 be reduced by $35 billion, from $320 billion to $285 billion. The committee-proposed level amounts to nearly a 6-percent real decline from FY 86 levels. The FY 86 level for defense was itself a 6-percent decline from the FY 85 budget. Thus the committee's proposal amounts to almost a 12-percent real decline from the FY 85 defense budget.

A 12-percent real decline in defense spending is hardly the ``leveling-off'' depicted by some. The committee recommendations, if approved, would cripple the combat readiness of our conventional forces and take unacceptable risks with our national security at a time when the immense Soviet military buildup continues uninterrupted. This radical, antidefense budget would tear down much of what we have built, together, these past 5 years and return us to that era of the 1970's, when the national defense was neglected and our country paid worldwide and dearly for that neglect. Has the Congress so soon forgotten the consequences of shortchanging national defense? The President cannot believe the American people, given the facts, would approve of what the House Budget Committee would have us do. Its recommendations, taken together, represent nothing less than a breach of faith with our common duty to protect this nation.

While the impact of a $35 billion reduction in FY 87 would be severe, this administration would seek to protect, to the extent possible, those programs and capabilities most vital to our national defense. These include the strategic modernization program, which also includes the Strategic Defense Initiative and improvements in command-and-control; our military personnel and the current force structure; and sensitive classified programs. Even so, there is no possibility that the large improvements in military personnel and readiness that have been achieved to date could be sustained in the face of a $35 billion reduction recommended by the House Budget Committee. It would be very difficult to support the increases in the size of U.S. Forces already approved by the Congress; and program terminations and cancellation of proposed new starts would be unavoidable.

We would have to cut an entire division from the Army, an aircraft carrier battle group, and tactical fighter wings from both the Air Force and the Navy. Termination of critical mobility programs, such as the C - 17 airlifter, would further postpone the capability we need to deploy forces rapidly over long distances. Other critical programs would be terminated as well. These would include programs like a new field artillery support vehicle, the Army helicopter improvement program, a new 120mm mortar and ammunition, the AV - 8B and A6E/F attack aircraft, the F - 15, the JSTARS new surveillance aircraft, the TR - 1 reconnaissance aircraft, and a number of other needed programs.

We would have to stretch out or shelve research and development for over 50 programs. In addition, stretchouts in the procurement of over 25 weapon systems would result not only in later than planned deployment but also in rising costs because of production inefficiencies. Programs like the M - 1 tank, the Bradley fighting vehicle, F - 16 and F - 18 fighters, the EA - 6B electronic warfare aircraft, the SSN - 688 and SSN - 21 Class attack submarines, the CG - 47 AEGIS cruisers, and many military construction programs would be affected. As you can see, planned and required force expansion across the spectrum of military capability would have to be cut back.

Munitions cutbacks would reduce our ability to sustain forces in combat. We would see direct impact on programs like the GBU - 15 bomb; Maverick, Harm, Tomahawk, Sparrow, and Patriot missiles; lightweight, multipurpose ammunition, and ammunition-mobilization facilities. Reductions in spare parts, support equipment, and communications equipment would lead to lower operational readiness. Depot maintenance capability would be reduced. Ship repair backlogs would increase. Operations accounts already severely cut in 1986 would not increase sufficiently to support forces and equipment or satisfy essential readiness and training needs. In short, the impact on our defense capability would be pervasive and severe across the board.

In the final analysis, it is Congress that will determine specific funding levels for individual defense programs. While the priorities the President has outlined are clear, it is impossible to predict the results of authorization and appropriation action. If such cuts are sustained, however, an action clearly damaging to our national security, the President will make every effort to see them carried out in the manner he has outlined.

The accomplishments of the past 5 years are now in jeopardy because of the defense reductions being considered in Congress. Congress approved and set in motion our program for rebuilding America's military strength. It would be wasteful and irresponsible to cut short this program by denying the funding necessary to carry it out. We did not spend the last 5 years making our military more competitive and America secure again only to undo it all in our second term. We must not return to the shortsighted and discredited policies of the past, which destroyed the confidence of our military personnel, undermined our military capabilities, and jeopardized America's security. The threat has not changed; this only increases the risk.

The decisions we make about our defense budget today determine the strength with which we can underwrite our security for years to come. The threat we anticipate, unfortunately, continues to grow. The House Budget Committee's proposed level for defense spending would increase the risk to each one of us by reversing the progress we have made and causing the gap between our national security requirements and our military capabilities to widen once again.