MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (AP) — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz laid out his vision for bolstering the U.S. military on an aircraft carrier in South Carolina Tuesday, vowing to rebuild the military so "it will be feared by our enemies and trusted by our allies."
In a nod to South Carolina's sizeable military and veteran population, Cruz said he would model his approach to the military on that of former President Ronald Reagan. He did not put a price tag on the expansion he envisioned, but said he would pay for it by cutting federal spending by at least $500 billion, selling federal assets and properties and auditing the Pentagon to find savings.
"If you think it's too expensive to defend this nation, try not defending it," Cruz said. "This will be a challenge and involve difficult choices."
Speaking in front of a World War II Navy dive bomber inside the U.S.S. Yorktown, Cruz called for increasing the number of active duty troops, airplanes and fighting ships. He also called for expanding the Air Force to include at least 6,000 airplanes, up from 4,000, and to increase the number of battleships from 273 to at least 350.
"It is time for America to once again prioritize a strong, advanced and robust military," he said. "We will not go picking fights around the globe. The purpose of this rebuilt military is not to intervene in every conflict and engage in expensive and protracted exercises in nation building in countries who have scant interests in the institutions we want to impose on them."
The Obama administration has reshaped the military, shrinking it and emphasizing what it considers to be new-era capabilities that are better suited for the range of conflicts the U.S. is facing, including cyberwarfare and special operations missions. It has been constrained, however, by across-the-board budget cuts that Congress and the White House agreed to in 2011, which have left the Air Force and Army less ready for short-notice conflict.
Cruz also pointed to a need for greater collaboration with the Jordanian, Egyptian and Israeli militaries, partnering with them on counterterrorism missions, and boosting counterterrorism cyber-surveillance. These are approaches the Obama administration has pursued vigorously in recent years, especially in military cooperation with Israel and Jordan.
He also reiterated his pledges not to admit groups of refugees into the U.S. "who may have been infiltrated by terrorists," not allow women to be drafted into military combat and restructure the Veterans Affairs Department.
There is currently no draft by the U.S. military, but a debate is raging over whether women, who are now allowed to seek combat assignments that previously were open only to men, should be required to register for a draft that theoretically could be held in the event of a national emergency.
South Carolina is set to hold its Republican primary on Feb. 20.