Georgia’s defense interests see gains and losses in Obama budget

With one of the largest defense footprints in the country, Georgia has a lot of interests in the nearly $583 billion Pentagon budget blueprint President Barack Obama sent to Capitol Hill last week.

Overall, Obama’s top-line number is essentially frozen from last year’s level in order to adhere to the budget deal he negotiated last fall with then-Speaker John Boehner and other congressional leaders. Defense-oriented lawmakers would like to increase that number.

Among other proposals, Obama asked lawmakers to approve a 1.6 percent pay raise for the troops. That’s slightly more than what they received last year but lower than the estimated rise in private-sector pay. If approved, it would be the fourth consecutive year of pay raises below private-sector growth, according to The Military Times.

Members of Georgia’s congressional delegation in Congress cheered the decision to extend the lifetime of the A-10 Warthog and the money included for the Cyber Comment center at Fort Gordon, but they expressed concern about the funding levels for JSTARS, an aging radar system.

Here are how some of Georgia’s other defense interests fared in Obama’s proposal:

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: The Air Force proposed buying five fewer F-35As than previously planned in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Meanwhile, the Navy and Marine Corps said they would like to increase their planned buy of the aircraft by 13. The plane is envisioned to be the military's next-generation fighter jet, which will eventually replace aircraft such as the A-10 Warthog, but its development has been plagued by significant cost overruns and delays.

Why it matters for Georgia: A Lockheed Martin facility in Marietta is building a portion of the center wing of the strike fighter. Georgia lawmakers hope to eventually house a squadron at Moody Air Force Base.

A-10 Warthog: The Pentagon asked to transition away from the older A-10 model two years later than previously planned in order to "ensure fighter squadrons are ready to deploy to meet high overseas demand." The proposal has the attack jet in inventory until at least 2022. The Air Force has wanted to retire the plane in favor of the next-generation F-35 joint strike fighter, but Georgia lawmakers have successfully leveraged their strength along with other states to block what they said was a premature retirement. The plane has become central to the Pentagon's efforts to destroy the Islamic State.

Why it matters for Georgia: Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta is home to a contingent of A-10s.

Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) Aircraft: The Air Force is in the process of replacing the E-8 JSTARS fleet, which performs intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance work in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The Obama administration sent a request to lawmakers last week that would fund JSTARS aircraft at $128 million for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, which is $172 million less for research, development and testing to replace the aircraft than what the Air Force initially laid out in 2016 in its five-year plan, according to members of Georgia's congressional delegation. Georgia lawmakers say that spending level is not enough to keep the replacement on schedule and that initially operating capability could slip from 2023 to 2024.

Why it matters for Georgia: The JSTARS fleet is based solely at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins.

Cyber Command: One of the major focuses of the defense budget this year is cybersecurity, and the Pentagon's request includes $90 million for the construction of a cyberprotection team operations facility at Fort Gordon.

Why it matters for Georgia: The Army's Cyber Command headquarters, which defends the military's computer networks from cyberbreaches, is in the process of moving to the Augusta military base and is expected to bring 1,500 jobs with it. Complete relocation is expected by 2019.

Ohio Class submarine: The Pentagon's proposed shipbuilding budget includes $1.9 billion this year for research and development on a replacement for the aging nuclear submarine, which is considered a key piece of the country's nuclear deterrence plans.

Why it matters for Georgia: A portion of the Ohio Class submarine fleet is stationed at Kings Bay Naval Base near St. Marys.

Troop levels: The Army called for the continued drawdown of troops from 475,000 active-duty forces in 2016 to 460,000 in 2017. The administration announced this retrenchment effort last year.

Why it matters for Georgia: Overall, 4,350 troops are expected to be cut in Georgia over a two-year period, more than three-quarters of which from Fort Benning. The rest are slated to come from Fort Stewart.