Secretary of Defense Robert Gates today proposed the most radical reshaping of the Pentagon’s spending priorities since the end of the Cold War, including halting Lockheed Martin F-22 production at 186 aircraft.
The secretary will advise President Barack Obama to submit a Fiscal 2010 budget request that will likely kickstart a strong backlash from Congress, where lawmakers often staunchly support weapon systems that provide jobs in their districts.
Gates’s FY10 budget proposes to offset F-22 production by accelerating procurement of the Lockheed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Gates says his intent is to buy a fifth generation fighter in greater numbers and at sustainable costs.
The FY10 budget proposal would also cancel pending contracts for new weapons systems such as the combat search and rescue helicopter (CSAR-X) and the transformational satellite communications (TSAT) system.
Gates is also proposing to restart the politically-charged KC-X tanker competition between Northrop Grumman/EADS North America and Boeing in the third quarter after a nearly year-long hiatus.
Gates also noted he would be open to proposals to accelerate purchases for a single tanker replacement fleet, rejecting calls for a split-buy.
The Lockheed/AgustaWestland VH-71A presidential helicopter would also be scrapped, along with plans to start developing a next-generation bomber.
Nothing was said by Gates about the fate of the Boeing C-17 production line, which also requires an infusion of new funds to remain active beyond early 2011. However, even if the C-17 is omitted from the budget request, Congress could still insert the funds to buy the aircraft the war supplemental bill.
Gates described his FY10 budget recommendations as seeking to “institutionalize and enhance our capabilities to fight the wars we are in today and the scenarios we are most likely to face in the years ahead, while at the same time providing a hedge against other risks and contingencies”.
Gates took particular aim at the US military’s portfolio of multi-billion tactical aircraft programmes. In addition to halting production of the F-22 in late 2011, the FY10 budget proposal would also retire 250 of the oldest US Air Force fighters next year.
But Gates claims that tactical air superiority can be maintained by accelerating F-35 purchases, investing $11.2 billion next year to buy 30 low-rate initial production aircraft. The DOD would also buy 513 F-35s over the next five years, much faster than previously planned.
Surprisingly, Gates says the military advice he received, including from USAF officials, recommended halting F-22 production. That appears to conflict with recent statements by USAF Chief of Staff Gen Norton Schwartz, who has repeatedly described a fleet of 183 F-22s as insufficient.
Another major aerospace target was in the area of missile defence, especially the Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser. The first prototype will be kept as a research asset, but Gates will propose scrapping the second planned prototype.