On Thursday, the Financial TImes reported that the cuts to military weapons systems that appear in George W. Bush's budget proposal for 2006 would be re-examined and perhaps reversed....



By Demetri Sevastopulo

Financial Times (UK)
February 10, 2005


WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is considering restoring expensive weapons systems cut from its 2006 budget, just days after President George W. Bush submitted his funding request to Congress.

The White House this week asked Congress to provide $419bn (325bn euros, £224bn) to fund the military. While the proposed budget prioritises fighting the war on terrorism, it suggests deep cuts in several programmes, including the next generation F/A-22 Raptor fighter jet, the C-130J Hercules transport aircraft and shipbuilding programs. [For more information, see the Globalsecurity.org web site. -D.Q.]

At a Senate armed services hearing on Thursday, several senators questioned whether the U.S. air force could retain air superiority in coming years without the Raptor. The Pentagon budget slashes to 180 the number of Raptors the air force can buy. The air force says it needs 380 Raptors.

John Jumper, the air force chief of staff, told the committee the Pentagon would re-examine whether it should buy more of the Lockheed Martin supersonic fighter in its quadrennial defence review a study of the military's future needs that will be completed this autumn.

Donald Rumsfeld, defense secretary, told some senators this week the Pentagon would re-evaluate the proposed cuts to the Raptor program, AP reported on Thursday.

Gen. Jumper said the Pentagon was also reconsidering planned cuts in the C-130J fleet, saying the military had underestimated the costs associated with cancelling its contract with Lockheed.

Some senators, including Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, expressed concern that the U.S. was not funding its navy adequately. The 2006 budget “reverses a lot of the gains we have started to make in recent years,” she said.

The administration has also proposed retiring the John F. Kennedy, one of its 12 aircraft carriers, a decision that John Warner, chairman of the committee, said was “shocking.”

Carl Levin, the top Democrat on the committee, and John McCain, an Arizona Republican, accused the Pentagon of hiding some costs in a supplementary budget to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that the White House is expected to send to Congress next week. “That is not honest budgeting,” said Mr. Levin.

Mr. Levin also raised concerns about $4.5m included in the budget to fund research into a “bunker-buster” nuclear bomb capable of destroying targets deep beneath the earth.

“We're assured there's no plan to producing an RNEP [robust nuclear earth penetrator], and yet suddenly there's money that appears in the air force budget,” he said.

Separately on Thursday, Michael Wynne, the top Pentagon acquisitions official, said he had asked the air force to prepare for a competition to replace its ageing fleet of refuelling tankers.

The Pentagon last year cancelled a $23.5bn contract with Boeing to buy and lease 100 tankers after Darleen Druyun, a former senior air force procurement official, admitted boosting the price of the deal as a “parting gift” for the company.

Ms. Druyun was last year sentenced to nine months in prison for violating procurement laws by negotiating a job with Boeing before removing herself from air force negotiations with the company. Mike Sears, who was fired as Boeing's chief financial officer for holding the job talks with Ms. Druyun, is next week due to be sentenced for his role in the scandal.

“An open competition results in best value for the customer and greatest combat capability for the warfighter,” said Guy Hicks, a spokesman for EADS, the European defense group that plans on competing for the tanker contract.

A Pentagon study into ways to recapitalize the tanker fleet has been pushed back several months, increasing the chances that Boeing may have to close its 767 production line.