(Adds details on proposed defense spending)
By David Alexander and Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Facing new security challenges in the Middle East and Ukraine, the Obama administration on Monday proposed a $534 billion Pentagon base budget plus $51 billion in war funds as it urged Congress to end spending cuts it says erode U.S. military power.
The proposed base budget exceeded the $499 billion federal spending cap for fiscal year 2016, forcing a debate with Congress over whether to continue deep cuts to federal discretionary spending or to amend the limits set in a 2011 law that sought to narrow the U.S. budget deficit.
Defense officials acknowledged the request exceeded federal spending limits, but General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the budget “represents the minimum resource level necessary to remain a capable, ready and appropriately sized force able to meet our global commitments.”
The proposed budget included $5.3 billion to fund operations against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, including $1.3 billion to train and equip Syrian opposition fighters.
To reassure European allies worried about Russia’s actions in Ukraine and elsewhere in the region, it proposed $789 million to bolster U.S. military rotational deployments and increase military exercises and training with partners in Europe.
“The geopolitical events of the past year only reinforce the need to resource DoD (Department of Defense) at the president’s requested funding level as opposed to current law,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
The budget follows several years of deep spending cuts, also known as sequestration. Projected defense spending was supposed to be reduced by about a trillion dollars over a decade but defense officials say the cuts are eroding military capabilities after 15 years of war.
“As the budget makes clear, a return to sequester-level funding would be irresponsible and dangerous, resulting in a force too small and ill-equipped to respond to the full range of potential threats to the nation,” the Pentagon said.
The proposed budget would enable the U.S. Army to fund an active-duty force of 475,000 soldiers, down slightly from its plan to retain 490,000 after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon has warned that if the 2011 budget limits remained in force, it would have to cut the Army to about 420,000 troops.
The Pentagon again sought approval for several reforms hotly opposed in Congress, including retirement of the A-10 “Warthog” close-air support aircraft, conducting a new round of U.S. base closures and curbing the rising cost of military pay and benefits. (Additional reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by David Storey and G Crosse)