WASHINGTON (AP) — Spending on two of the Pentagon's top priorities, cybersecurity and special operations forces, would largely remain flat or dip slightly in 2013 under the Defense Department's budget proposal, as officials beef up personnel and research but find savings elsewhere.
Defense leaders have insisted that increased investments in these areas were needed to address future national security threats at home and abroad. Last year, top defense officials said they expected cyber spending to increase in 2013 because the threat is escalating at a dramatic rate, and terror groups and rogue nations are trying to acquire the ability to breach, destroy or take control of critical networks and military systems.
But demands to slash the military budget have made it difficult to make any substantial spending increases. So defense officials have scrambled to find savings while still meeting the nation's warfighting needs.
Spending on cybersecurity programs, which includes the military's new Cyber Command, will be close to $3.4 billion, roughly what it was last year. And funding for special operations forces will slip by about $100 million, to $10.4 billion.
"We are in the 21st century and we have to use 21st century capabilities," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told senators this week. "That's the reason this budget invests in space, in cyberspace, in long-range precision strike, and in the continued growth of special operations forces to ensure that we can still confront and defeat multiple adversaries even with the force structure reductions."
While the reductions in special operations reflect overall efforts to trim the defense budget, officials said the bulk of the cuts are tied more directly to the wind-down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the departure of special operations forces from Iraq last year, for example, officials could save money on fuel, aircraft and other support staff and facilities that had been needed there.
At the same time, however, the role of special operations forces may expand in Afghanistan, but officials contend they have budget to support that.
Panetta said the budget will continue planned increases in the number of special operations forces — which has been about 5 percent a year. There are currently about 61,000 special operations forces.
Spending on cyber operations will increase in a few areas, but drop significantly in others. The $3.4 billion in cybersecurity is part of an overall $37 billion in computer-related spending proposed for 2013. The larger number includes the thousands of computers, networks, digital systems and other equipment used by the military and its civilian workforce.
Officials said they expect to find significant savings on computer equipment — including hardware and software, data centers and other infrastructure — as the military tries to consolidate its systems and networks, saving energy and money.
Meanwhile, there will be added funding for U.S. Cyber Command, which is based at Fort Meade, Md., largely for operations and research into how the military should respond to the persistent cyberattacks and probes of its networks.
And the budget for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, will also increase as the department invests more in high-tech research and equipment.
"We've identified efficiencies and redirected resources to better match mission-critical needs," said Pentagon spokesman George Little. "We're using our cyber dollars more wisely, and as a result, we believe this budget will allow us to further boost our cyber capabilities."
The Pentagon also will spend an unspecified amount for classified offensive cyber operations, mainly involving the highly secretive National Security Agency, which is involved in offensive cyber operations against enemies and attackers, as well as efforts to defend defense department networks.
The Cyber Command budget includes money for both defensive and offensive operations, but officials have never disclosed how much the U.S. spends on classified and offensive computer-based operations.
On several occasions this week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that the Pentagon considers cybersecurity a priority.
"We are making increased investments there of $3.4 billion and even more in the out years because we think cyber is extremely important," said Panetta, adding that the threats are growing every day and have the capability to "basically paralyze the country."