US Air Force officials say Lockheed Martin's AGM-158 JASSM stealthy cruise missile is being unfairly targeted by congressional appropriators, who are seeking to cut the project's funding for the second time in as many years, writes Stephen Trimble. The US House has approved a measure introduced by appropriators to cut the programme's funding by $8.3 million, which would reduce the air force's total purchase in fiscal year 2005 by 57 missiles.

A committee report has faulted the Lockheed Martin development programme for showing "poor missile reliability" during an operational evaluation last year. "The contractor must take immediate action to improve JASSM reliability, such as conducting a robust fuze improvement programme, and fixing the mission planning software and interface/throughput problems," the report says.

USAF director of long-range attack programmes Gerry Freisthler says all of those glitches were resolved months ago, but were included regardless in a final report issued by an operational evaluation team in April. In a twist, Freisthler notes, the same data reported in draft form a year ago may have sparked a failed attempt by lawmakers last year to make even deeper cuts to the budget.

n House appropriators have expressed concern about several other weapons programmes in a report accompanying the fiscal year 2005 defence spending bill. They slashed the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F/A-22 fighter's budget by $30 million and called for the air force to sponsor a new independent cost estimate for the programme.

A US Navy plan to shorten development testing of the Boeing EA-18G "Growler" electronic attack aircraft has been criticised by the committee for increasing programme risk. The budget for the navy's VXX presidential helicopter programme has also been cut by $220 million.

Source: Flight International