F/A-22, C-130J and Joint Common Missile face early termination under proposals

The Bush administration is proposing a new defence budget strategy that focuses on rebuilding the army's specialised units into a more easily managed, modular force, but also targets billions of dollars of cuts on aviation, missiles and ships. The massive scope of the $30 billion budget shift over six years will pose a difficult challenge for an effective opposition to emerge in a US Congress that is traditionally protective of big-ticket weapons programmes.

An internal budget planning document for 2006, signed on 23 December, proposes early terminations of the Lockheed Martin/ Boeing F/A-22 Raptor, Lockheed Martin C-130J and Lockheed Martin Joint Common Missile, plus deep cuts for missile defence, the Bell Boeing V-22, Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS), E-10A multi-sensor command and control aircraft and Lockheed Martin Wind-Corrected Munitions Dispenser-Extended Range programmes.

The proposals are likely to raise fierce opposition across multiple constituencies on Capitol Hill, where a backlash will likely coalesce after the budget cuts are formally released by the Pentagon early next month.

Previously, lawmakers have waged bitter, if futile, struggles to defeat the administration's plans to kill the army's Crusader artillery system and to retire one-third of the air force's Boeing B-1B Lancer bomber fleet.

The Pentagon also had to convince a pocket of sceptical lawmakers that the demise of the Boeing/Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche helicopter programme last year would be used to recapitalise the army aviation fleet.

The planning document is not limited to cost cutting, and provides the army with an additional $25 billion over six years to rationalise and integrate its separate programmes for a Future Combat System and modular unit structure. The army's goal is to create a highly networked and mobile force made up of 10 divisions, each with identical equipment and troop numbers. The plan permits the army to scale up its force while dramatically reducing the air force and navy's modernisation accounts.

F/A-22 production would be halted after about 2010, reducing the fleet from 277 aircraft to 180. Air force C-130J procurement would be cut by 43 aircraft, or nearly one-third, while the US Marine Corps would lose 20 KC-130Js, or 40% of its requirement. Also, the V-22 production ramp would be trimmed by 22 aircraft by 2011, at a time when the programme is desperate to boost production rates to achieve cost-saving targets.

Other budget cuts are far less specific. The administration is targeting a $5 billion cut for its prized missile defence system and a $600 million saving to its E-10A programme, but has provided no details of either planned restructuring. The J-UCAS project would be restructured "by realigning adjusted resources to the air force to establish a joint programme office with navy representation," according to the budget document.

The programme will also have a new emphasis on developing air vehicles that will contribute to a jointly approved vision for future warfighting, it says.


Source: Flight International