Joint Common Missile programme among victims as Pentagon targets 'over-investments' in overlapping systems

Axing the Lockheed Martin Joint Common Missile (JCM) programme may rank as the most unlikely - and yet perhaps illuminating - proposal in a six-year, $55 billion budget reshuffle publicly confirmed on 7 February by the US Department of Defense (DoD).

The DoD's fiscal 2006 budget request seeks $418 billion - despite the cuts a 4.8% hike over FY05 and a more than 40% jump since FY01. Overall procurement spending would appear to dip 2% to $78 billion, but the reduction is illusory. Supplemental funding estimated to total $75-100 billion also will be sought to pay for operations and equipment next year in Iraq and Afghanistan and are not included in the baseline budget proposal.

In such flourishing conditions, nothing obvious about the JCM programme explains why it should be terminated. Intended to replace the Lockheed Hellfire and Boeing Maverick-missile JCM is neither over budget nor behind schedule. Equipped with a tri-mode seeker and multi-mission warhead, JCM is not criticised as a Cold War relic in search of a new mission. Programme management has not yet run afoul of the government's auditing organisations.

Rather, programme officials say, the JCM is meeting schedule and cost targets, offers improved technology and fills a niche capability gap. Thus, the customary grounds for cancelling the programme would not seem to apply. However, JCM's otherwise unblemished credentials may obscure an underlying weakness that is possibly at the heart of the DoD's largest overall budget adjustment in more than a decade.

That weakness is perhaps found in the DoD's new emphasis on correcting for "over-investments" in related systems that perform similar roles.

Eliminating some programmes in the over-invested categories incurs slightly more risk, but the DoD will accept that to have more money to pour into capability areas that are perceived as under-invested, such as mobility, logistics and special operations.

For example, the JCM may offer the DoD a unique and valuable ability to destroy moving ground vehicles protected by active countermeasures, but viewed another way, the JCM is only an incrementally better tool among others already in the weapons inventory.

Shift in emphasis

"It's a realisation that we don't have the money to do everything," says Robin Laird, a Washington DC-based defence consultant. It is also another sign, he adds, that a previous emphasis on buying new platforms is shifting to acquiring new capabilities.

Laird says US defence acquisitions under this strategy will fall into two categories: "One: what can I leverage from extant things to give capabilities that I have and value? Two: to invest in new platforms I have to see that they're not a variant of one I already have."

The JCM would be terminated in FY06 along with the Lockheed C-130J transport and the Lockheed Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser-Extended Range weapon. Also in FY06, among only aerospace programmes, the DoD is seeking to slash $800 million for the Northrop Grumman Kinetic Energy Interceptor; initiate a two-year, $600 million cut for the Northrop E-10A Multi-sensor Command and Control Aircraft; and launch a $1.1 billion funding cut spread over five years for the Boeing/Northrop Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) programme.

In perhaps the boldest gesture, the Pentagon is seeking to halt Lockheed/Boeing F/A-22 Raptor production after 2008 at about 180 aircraft, or about 200 less than the US Air Force is hoping to buy. That proposal alone would save $10 billion.

DoD officials have generally described the cuts as a means to finance a broad restructuring of the US Army from 10 divisions to 77 more flexible brigade combat teams, but have stopped short of providing an over-arching strategic rationale that would explain why certain programmes are vulnerable.

The proposed cuts have mobilised a vocal - although typically uncoordinated - response from Congress. A major source of opposition is the proposal to stop the USAF's multi-year contract for 42 C-130Js after the first 15 aircraft, halting the production line at the end of the year.

C-130 demise

Combined with the USAF's now disputed decision in 2001 to award the $4 billion C-130 Avionics Modernization Programme to Boeing, the new action could signal the demise of Lockheed's half-century-old C-130 production line in Marietta, Georgia.

A USAF budget official estimates the C-130J termination would cost an extra $500 million to $1 billion in breach of contract fees. As one of the primary FY06 budget targets, the C-130J has sparked an immediate backlash as a focus point for opposition from industry and Congress.

Although the C-130J will likely command the greatest publicity, several lawmakers also have leaped forward to defend the JCM programme. In early February, a group of six Congress members signed a letter to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz demanding an explanation for terminating the programme.

The DoD's actions have sparked a far-reaching budget clash with industry and Congress just months before the planned start of the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, a mandated report to Congress intended to realign and update the military's force structure and capability needs.

"The defence review is intended to complete a holistic view of air dominance, and I think the department is prepared to give any consideration to the conclusions that we draw from the review," says a senior US defence official.

Overall in FY06, the US military is seeking funds to buy 76 fighters, 27 cargo aircraft, 60 trainers, 89 helicopters and 11 Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotors. That compares fairly evenly with this year's enacted budget, which provides funds to buy 75 fighters, 36 cargo aircraft, 66 helicopters, 65 trainers and 11 V-22s.

A US Army plan to buy 100 "small" unmanned air vehicles next year would boost total UAV purchases from 24 last year to 114.

The USAF's top-line budget would rise $4 billion to $103 billion, which includes a proposal to increase funding on space programmes from $8.1 billion in FY05 to $9.9 billion next year.

The army's budget would grow $1.4 billion to $98.6 billion, excluding a significant outlay expected from the supplemental request. The army's budget also would redistribute in FY06 about $1.3 billion salvaged from the move last year to terminate the Boeing/Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche.

Heavylift launch

Meanwhile, the US Navy budget would jump $6.4 billion to $125.6 billion. Confirming recent reports, the USN is proposing to launch the Heavy-Lift Helicopter Replacement programme in FY06, with a nearly $272 million request to start developing a new and more powerful version of the Sikorsky CH-53E. The USN also unveiled long-range plans to purchase the first two heavylift helicopters in FY10 and two more in FY11.

Navy officials also have confirmed plans to join the US Army's Lockheed Aerial Common Sensor (ACS) programme after missing two previous deadlines to complete the paperwork.


Source: Flight International