The proposal would add two more infantry battalions.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon wants to restructure the Marine Corps -- adding two more active-duty infantry battalions as well as intelligence and reconnaissance units -- as part of its effort to transform the Cold War-era military to fight terrorists.
The proposal was included in the $419 billion defense budget that President Bush sent to Congress on Monday. Overall, the budget -- which did not include the billions spent for fighting wars this year -- would buy fewer planes, ships and submarines than previously planned in favor of giving more money to counterterrorism efforts.
Within hours of the budget rollout, Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike indicated that the weapons system cuts would face fierce debate on Capitol Hill and some suggested the Pentagon should get more than the 4.5 percent -- or $18 billion -- increase Bush requested over the current year's spending.
Despite the increase, Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said the budget request underfunds or omits important programs for troops and their families. "In a time of war, it's essential that we provide for our troops," he said.
Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., praised the "substantial increase" in the "fairly solid" budget, but said he would like to see even more of a boost, particularly to the fund that pays for replacing trucks, tanks, ships and planes.
He said the committee no doubt would hold "fairly robust hearings" in which it would press the administration on its plans to scale back the Air Force's high-priority fighter jet program, the F/A-22, and retire one of the military's 12 aircraft carriers. "We're going to look at those programs very carefully," Hunter said.
The president has proposed shrinking the weapons-buying budget by $100 million, to $78 billion, to make room for the extra costs of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The defense budget has grown rapidly since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and it was crafted in line with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's vision of a more "agile, deployable and lethal force" able to fight terrorists.
Enter the proposal to restructure the Marine Corps over the next five years.
By 2008, the Marine Corps would reduce the number of artillery, tank and air defense units and reassign Marines in those units to two new active-duty infantry battalions and other new units that specialize in intelligence, reconnaissance and counterterrorism. About 6,000 active-duty and reserve Marines would be affected.
The Marine Corps also proposes to add linguists and intelligence specialists. The proposal had not previously been detailed, unlike the plan to restructure the Army.
Vice Adm. Bob Willard, director for resources of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon news conference that along the new infantry battalions, the Marines also will add "a combination of combat and combat support elements" so the overall force can be "more rapidly deployable and a little more agile and supportive to what we're doing."