By CNN National Security Producer Jennifer Rizzo
Behind all the budget numbers and Pentagon strategy talk is a vision of the military's weapons of the future.
The budget documents released by the Pentagon last week provided the first details on what is staying, going, or soon to come to the military's arsenal of weapons. Buried in the pages, with only vague mentions, were glimpses of the next generation of bombers, submarines with super-fast missiles and a floating base for a new way to launch Special Operations Forces.
U.S. currently has 162 bombers in its fleet. They will all stay. In addition, the Pentagon announced continued funding for the next generation Air Force bomber.
The new bomber will be able to fly farther without having to be refueled than the current F-22 and F-35 fighter jets, and will be stealthier, according to aviation analyst Bill Sweetman. Currently, the United States has only 20 stealth bombers, all B-2s.
China has a history of "telling us to get off their lawn, which happens to be the South China Sea," said Sweetman. U.S. aircraft carriers in those waters could be vulnerable to an attack by China's long-range anti-ship ballistic missiles.
"If you have a system that can operate in Chinese air space with impunity, you have an ability to look for those (missile) transporter vehicles," he said.
Development of the bomber is still in its infancy. The new craft will not be available for at least 10 and possibly 15 years, according the Air Force. But there is the possibility that the bomber will be developed with the option of flying it pilotless.
That would make this new aircraft the first bomber drone.
"It basically means that you can have bombers flying around the South China Sea persistently. Rather than having to identify targets and send bombers after them, you can have a permanent airborne presence over the South China Sea," said weapons expert John Pike.
"The whole point of having a new bomber is that it would remain aloft for days at a time," Pike said. "You can do that with a drone but not with a crew."
The Air Force, however said it's too early in the program to make a decision on manned or unmanned.
Submarines are being "decked out" with more strike power. New Virginia class, nuclear-powered fast attack submarines will be modified to increase the number of cruise missiles they carry. Instead of maxing out at 12 Tomahawk missiles, new Virginia class subs will be able to hold 40, according to the Navy.
They also will be developed to have an undersea conventional prompt-strike option, allowing the submarines to hit a target anywhere in the world within an hour, according to the Navy.
"Modernizing our submarine fleet will also be critical to our efforts to maintain maritime access in these vital regions of the world," Panetta said.
Modernization in this case means speed and distance.
"Cruise missiles are quite slow," Sweetman said. "It could take four hours to go 2,000 miles"
The conventional prompt-strike option gives the ability to strike targets deep inside a large country like China very quickly.
"Speed is important because you are going to use it to destroy their mobile missiles that are fleeting targets on big trucks," Pike said. "If you don't get to them quickly you are going to lose track of them."
But such countries wouldn't be the only places this weapon could be used.
"Suppose you have intelligence that a rogue state is preparing a ballistic missile launch or some military action that you want to pre-empt very quickly," said Sweetman, who mentioned North Korea or Iran as possibilities.
The Pentagon wasn't able to disclose when the submarine prompt-strike capability will be ready on the submarine, but Pike predicts within a decade.
Floating staging base
If setting up shop on land isn't possible, try the open waters instead. The military will be developing a floating forward staging base that will be "dedicated to support missions in places where ground-based access is not an option, such as counter-mine operations" the Pentagon said in the budget documents.
Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial shipping lane for Persian Gulf oil. Mines would be one way for Iran to block the waterway.
The base would provide a physical presence that is not tied to a piece of terrain, according to James "Spider" Marks, a former Army major general.
"You can move it anyplace you want," he said.
And the cost of operation would be lower than using a warship, Marks said.
"It looks like a harmless ship, but in the belly of it you will have an array of capabilities that will allow you to have a very quick and precise strike capability in the form of SEALS, other Special Operations forces, Rangers," he said.
The base would have a smaller capacity than a cargo ship but be larger than an amphibious assault ship, according to Pike.
"They have been drawing pictures of this thing for the better part of the last decade," he said.
The military can't wait, however, for this new base to be developed. The Pentagon is now converting an aging warship into a floating base for use by U.S. commandos operating in the Middle East, according to a senior Defense Department official.
The USS Ponce, an amphibious transport docking ship, will be retrofitted into a staging base for Navy special operations forces.
"The warship will be manned by a combined crew of Navy officers and enlisted sailors and Military Sealift Command government civilian mariners," said a statement from Lt. Commander Mike Kafka at U.S. Fleet Forces.
The deployment will fulfill a long-standing request of the U.S. Central Command, the statement said.