Budget concern at Boeing in Delco

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"We're hoping we get some money for the V-22 (Osprey) and the Chinook, our products here," said Mike Tolassi, of UAW Local 1069 , which represents workers at Boeing Corp. in Ridley Park.

Even with an extra $52 billion for the world's largest military in President Trump's new budget - or the $60 billion that Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz) is lobbying for - workers at Boeing Corp.'s war helicopter factory and division headquarters in Ridley Park, Delaware County, are unsure that they will all still be on the job next year.

"We're hoping we get some money for the V-22 (Osprey) and the Chinook, our products here. But right now, we're in a little bit of a downturn," said Mike Tolassi, president of United Auto Workers Local 1069, which represents about 1,370 of Boeing's 4,500 workers at the complex, the largest industrial plant in the Philadelphia area.

"This past year we've been experiencing layoffs. I believe we're going to have another in April," Tolassi added. "But we're hopeful. The company keeps telling us better days are ahead. We want them to go out and get these contracts."

Trump's summary budget calls for more Apache helicopters, which Boeing makes at its plant in Mesa, Ariz. - McCain country.

The Defense Department's 2017 budget request, besides paying for previous orders, would also allocate $600 million to replace an Osprey "lost in combat." An Osprey was destroyed and Navy SEAL Senior Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens was killed during a January raid in Yemen, where the United States has been attacking suspected al-Qaeda terrorist groups.

"The 2018 outline issued this morning is an important step in the government's effort to craft a budget," Boeing spokesman Todd Blecher said. He declined comment on the Ridley plant's prospects, noting that budget "details may change" in Congress.

With less than 5 percent of the world's population, U.S. taxpayers pay for almost half the world's military spending.

President Trump says it's not enough. Trump's increase "is no shock. The president told us what he was going to do. And I think the McCain plan is more likely to get passed," analyst Brian Ruttenbur, senior analyst for Philadelphia-based Drexel, Hamilton & Co., said after reviewing Trump's budget highlights Thursday.

Despite all the spending, "the U.S. military is at Carter-esque levels," as it was when it was exhausted by the Vietnam War, Ruttenbur said.

While Special Forces and troops from the 82nd Airborne Division are fighting in Iraq and nearby countries, "the 101st Airborne is only at a third of its fighting force," for example, he said.

"We've been fighting these asymmetric wars against terrorists, house to house, for the past 15 years. We haven't been preparing for open warfare," fighting the Russians with tanks, or the Chinese with ships. "So we have equipment issues, training issues."

Still, why so expensive? Is American military spending like American health care and college and highway construction spending - the most costly in the world? Are other countries more efficient? "That's a great point," Ruttenbur said.

Bottom line, though, is that we do so much more than anyone else: "The U.S. spends nearly 50 percent of the world's defense budget. We operate 11 aircraft carriers. The Russians have two. The Chinese have one. They can put maybe 100 planes in the air (from a single carrier), and they need ramps to do it. We have catapults, we can put 180 planes on each carrier. And we have 11."

And our allies? "The British, we call their 'aircraft carrier' a helicopter-landing pad. We are far ahead of our competitors and our allies with our Navy and Air Force."

But we still need way more? "The problem is, we still have a World War II doctrine. That means we have to be able to fight two all-out wars simultaneously, in the Pacific and the Atlantic and win in both places. But instead we've been fighting terrorists in the desert."

So the Republicans want to be able to do it all. Once we have bigger forces, will we go ahead and fight more wars? I asked.

"We have to be prepared for that," Ruttenbur said. "You know about the 'Asia pivot' " in U.S. policy, from the Middle East, to Asia? "How do you stop the Chinese from building islands, except you put your warships over there and say, 'Don't do that'?" Or the Russians from invading the Baltic countries, our smallest European allies?

"In a lot of places foreign leaders only understand strength. We have to have that strength to flex that muscle and defend territory," Ruttenbur said.

"The problem is we've cut, cut, cut" after Congress tried to freeze spending following the 2008-09 financial crisis and budget-crushing borrowing.

"So we haven't been doing the maintenance training needed. This buildup is a very Reagan-esque thing to do. We have 280 ships. Trump wants 350. Of course, Reagan had over 500."

Reagan was also in the 1980s, when we still had a lot of small tenders and escort ships in the Navy, I reminded him.

"Right. Of course a ship back then didn't have the fighting capability we have today," Ruttenbur agreed.

"I cover Huntington Ingalls [Industries], they are building the littoral combat ships. You park one of them out by a Third World country, you have 2,500 Marines ready to take over. Our ability to deliver anywhere in the world has so [increased] from the '80s."

So what's the difference between the McCain and Trump budgets? "It's fighting over how much maintenance, how much retrofit," Ruttenbur said.

Either way, won't a big military mean a lot more military recruitment - and higher pay for our volunteer forces? "You will need more people," Ruttenbur affirmed. "They are talking about adding 50,000 Marines. There will be a lot more Army and Air Force." And those 70 additional Navy ships. "You will see a re-buildup of a volunteer military."

And war? Reagan rearmed but there was no new world war, the analyst reminded me.

Just a lot of smaller wars, or maybe the long war that doesn't end.

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