US military services pare congressional wish lists

The US armed services have cut their 2010 budget wish lists after Defense Secretary Robert Gates insisted on reviewing them before they were sent to lawmakers this week.
The lists were released on Wednesday by Representative John McHugh, top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Reuters adds.
McHugh said he needed more information on how budget decisions were made before deciding whether to support the Pentagon’s overall fiscal 2010 budget proposal of $663.8 billion.
In addition to the Pentagon’s overall budget request, each military service typically prepares a wish list of its “unfunded priorities” — spending for programs that did not make it into the base budget for various reasons.
For example, the Air Force had 20 items totaling $1.9 billion for 2010. That was a fraction of the $18.75 billion list it gave Congress last year, which included F-22 fighter jets, C-130J and C-17 transport planes, and F-35 fighters.
This year, the Air Force list focused on smaller ticket items, with the costliest being a $180.2 million battlefield airborne communications node.
Other Air Force items included $143 million to pay for spares and support equipment for 10 F-35 aircraft built by Lockheed Martin Corp, extra radars for Boeing F-15 fighters, three HH-60G replacement aircraft built by Sikorsky Aircraft and accelerated procurement of two HC-130J refueling planes made by Lockheed.
The services’ wish lists were much smaller than in years past because Gates enforced greater discipline on the fiscal 2010 budget, said defense consultant Jim McAleese.
McAleese said none of the services requested funds for any programs that were terminated or sharply cut by Gates within the overall Pentagon budget proposal.
The Navy’s unfunded priorities list contained just two items, one for aviation depot maintenance and the other for ship depot maintenance. The total bill was $395 million.
The Army had a list of 18 items totaling $953 million. “While these programs would contribute to improving overall readiness of the Army, they are a lower priority than the other programs in the president’s budget request,” Chief of Staff General George Casey told the committee.
The Marine Corps list had 16 items valued at $188.3 million that included some new equipment and continued modernisation efforts.
The federal government’s fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.
Gates defends US missile defense cuts
Gates has meanwhile defended cuts to US missile defense programmes, saying Washington would still invest in boosting defenses against long-range missile threats, like those posed by North Korea and Iran.
Gates told a House of Representatives subcommittee that the United States had made “great technological progress on missile defense” in the last two decades, but it was vital to strike a balance between research and development of new programmes and procurement.
He said the Pentagon had enough money from its fiscal 2009 budget to start building missile defense facilities in the Czech Republic and Poland if those countries approve and the Obama administration decides to move ahead with the plans.
But he said the administration also had “great interest” in partnering with Russia on missile defense.
“The reality is that radars located in Russia supplementing those in the Czech Republic would give additional capability to the sites in Europe,” Gates told the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee.
The administration’s fiscal 2010 budget plan calls for termination of two missile defense programs and cut funding for the Missile Defense Agency by $1.2 billion. The cuts have been questioned by lawmakers.
US Rep. Dave Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, questioned the timing of the missile defense cuts, particularly after Iran announced on Wednesday that it had tested a missile that analysts say could hit Israel and US bases in the Gulf.
Obey, who heads the Appropriations Committee, also cited “continuing rhetoric about threats to our friends and allies in the region” from Tehran.
Representative Tom Price, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said Iran’s test of the surface-to-surface missile underscored the “very real danger of a hostile Iran.”
“A strong, strategic missile defense system will go a long way toward preventing a constant threat of attack by rogue nations,” he said in a statement.
Gates said the Pentagon would continue robustly to fund research on improving defenses against long-range missile threats, and had added funding to protect against shorter-range regional threats.
The budget added $700 million in funding for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system being developed by Lockheed Martin and the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) program run by Raytheon.
But he was sharply critical of several multibillion-dollar programs, including two aimed at destroying enemy missiles during the boost phase, soon after launch.

Pic: A USAF F22