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US: Gates Proposes Major Changes to Military Programs, Weapons Buys

by August ColeWall Street Journal
April 6th, 2009

Defense Secretary Robert Gates unveiled a sweeping overhaul of the Pentagon's top weapons priorities that he said will orient the U.S. military toward winning unconventional conflicts like the one in Afghanistan rather than focusing on war with major powers like China and Russia.

[Robert Gates]

Robert Gates

Couching the choices as tradeoffs that will help the Pentagon's support for its military personnel, Mr. Gates said that his plans match "virtue with necessity" and reflect "an opportunity to truly reform the way we do business."

The ambitious shake-up, a combination of defense contract cutbacks and policy changes, will stoke a smoldering debate in Congress about the importance of weapons manufacturing jobs and may mark an inflection point after the industry's record run during the Bush administration. "There's no doubt a lot of these decisions will be controversial," said Mr. Gates, hoping that lawmakers rise above "parochial interests." Politics plaid no part in his decisions, he said.

Among the major changes he is proposing in the Defense Department's 2010 budget are ending production of Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F-22 Raptor at 187 jets, effectively shutting the door on the Air Force's desire for more of the advanced jets. Mr. Gates said funding for another Lockheed program, the F-35 Lightning, or Joint Strike Fighter, will be increased in 2010 to $11.2 billion, which will now buy 30 jets, up from 14.

Another Air Force program, a $15 billion effort to replace search and rescue helicopters, is to be cancelled, he said.

Even the White House's own plans to replace the president's fleet of Marine One helicopters with a new model built by Lockheed should be terminated, according to Mr. Gates, for being too expensive and six years late.

The Army's $200 billion Future Combat Systems program led by Boeing Co. and SAIC Inc. is being shaken up as Mr. Gates calls for canceling the ground vehicle components.

By curtailing some of the most expensive and complex weapons systems, Mr. Gates is making lasting changes that he believes are needed given the dual imperative of near-term fights against insurgent groups and increasing economic pressure.





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