Defense chief proposes weapons cuts
Published 11:36 pm Monday, April 6, 2009
Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday recommended halting production of the F-22 fighter jet and scrapping a new helicopter for the president as he outlined deep cuts to many of the military’s biggest weapons programs.
Also included in the budget cuts by Gates is a proposal that General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works build all three of the next-generation destroyers.
Bath is already building the first of the stealthy DDG-1000 destroyers, and the second is being built by Northrop Grumman in Mississippi. Maine Sen. Susan Collins says the proposed budget would take away one ship from Northrop Grumman and award it — along with a third ship — to the Bath shipyard.
Collins says the Navy preference to build all three ships in Bath would help to stabilize the work force as well as lower costs for the ships.
The two defense contractors are negotiating terms of severing the Northrop Grumman contract. The proposal also would require congressional approval.
Gates said his $534 billion budget proposal represents a “fundamental overhaul” in defense acquisition and reflects a shift in priorities from fighting conventional wars to the newer threats U.S. forces face from insurgents in places such as Afghanistan.
The department must ensure it has the right programs and money to “fight the wars we are in today and the scenarios we are most likely to face in the years to come, while at the same time providing a hedge against other risks,” Gates said as he revealed details of his budget for the next fiscal year.
The promised emphasis on budget paring is a reversal from the Bush years, which included a doubling of the Pentagon’s spending since 2001. Spending on tanks, fighter planes, ships, missiles and other weapons accounted for about a third of all defense spending last year. But Gates noted more money will be needed in areas such as personnel as the Army and Marines expand the size of their forces.
Gates will likely face stiff resistance in Congress, where lawmakers are wary of losing defense contractor jobs with an economy in crisis. Some defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin Corp. have warned of huge layoffs if programs are cut.
Production of the F-22 fighter jet, which cost $140 million apiece, would be halted at 187. Plans to build a new helicopter for the president and a helicopter to rescue downed pilots would be canceled. A new communications satellite would be scrapped and the program for a new Air Force transport plane would be ended.
Some of the Pentagon’s most expensive programs would also be scaled back. The Army’s $160 billion Future Combat Systems modernization program would lose its armored vehicles. Plans to build a shield to defend against missile attacks by rogue states would also be scaled back.
Yet some programs would grow. Gates proposed speeding up production of the F-35 fighter jet, which could end up costing $1 trillion to manufacture and maintain 2,443 planes. The military would buy more speedy ships that can operate close in to land. And more money would be spent outfitting special forces troops that can hunt down insurgents.
“It is important to remember that every defense dollar spent to over-ensure against a remote or diminishing risk — or in effect to run up the score in a capability where the United States is already dominant — is a dollar not available to take care of our people, reset the force, win the wars we are in and improve capabilities in areas where we are underinvested and potentially vulnerable,” Gates said.
The Government Accountability Office reported last week that 96 of the Pentagon’s biggest weapons contracts were over budget by a “staggering” figure of $296 billion.
A bill in Congress would require the Pentagon to do a better job of making sure proposed weapons are affordable and perform the way they should before the military spends big sums on them. The Defense Department has already adjusted its acquisitions policy to achieve some of those goals.