The Pentagon is considering cutting some of its largest programs, including the F/A-22 Raptor, to help bring down the budget deficit during the next few years and offset Iraq war costs, according to congressional and industry sources.
The proposals are considered tentative and have not been approved by the Office of Management and Budget or Congress, where they could face substantial resistance. The Pentagon is not scheduled to release its fiscal 2006 budget proposal until February.
The proposal is also expected to include significant cuts to the Navy's shipbuilding budget. "No service is getting away scot-free," said a Senate aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the process is in its early stages.
The cuts would confirm Wall Street and industry concerns that the Pentagon's hefty budget would eventually have to be tempered to offset the cost of the war and the budget deficit. In an interview last week, James F. Albaugh, president of Boeing Co.'s defense unit, said budget pressure was the chief obstacle facing the industry next year. "The big programs are all going to be looked at, just because of their size," Albaugh said.
Defense Department spokesman Eric Ruff said that nothing is final until the budget is submitted and that the 2006 budget is likely to include an overall increase. "Throughout this budget process we have focused on military capabilities: agility, speed, precision and flexibility," Ruff said.
Ruff declined to specify any programs but acknowledged that changes to the tactical air programs were being discussed. "It's only fair that we look back at the programs that were begun two or three decades ago to meet Cold War challenges," Ruff said. "The services have been reviewing their priorities given today's world, and they are making decisions about where to make their investments."
In the past week, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has spoken with John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, about "some of the targets that he plans to put forward in the budget to meet the president's own budget," said John Ullyot, a committee spokesman. The Defense Department "is going to play a part in the overall budget cuts that the president and his team are putting forward this year," he said. Rumsfeld and Warner did not discuss specific programs and Warner considers it too early to discuss the budget because it has not been released, Ullyot said.
The Navy's budget proposal already includes several program reductions, including building only four ships in fiscal 2006, compared with nine planned for the current fiscal year, and delaying production of a new generation of destroyers, defense and industry sources have said.
The Army has already put off parts of its modernization program -- known as the Future Combat System and managed jointly by Boeing Co. and Science Applications International Corp. -- to spend more time testing the technology. The Army in February canceled development of its Comanche helicopter, which was no longer deemed essential.
Under the current Pentagon budget proposal, Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F/A-22 fighter jet would remain fully funded through 2008 with the company building 24 to 26 of the planes a year, according to the sources. But funding for the program could stop or dwindle after 2008, the sources said. The cuts would mean Lockheed would produce 160 to 170 of the aircraft instead of the 277 the Air Force currently projects, the sources said.
"While we have not been notified of any changes to the F/A-22 program, if in fact these cuts do occur, they would not take place for several years and we believe the aircraft will prove its value and we would hope to see the number of aircraft restored," said Dennis R. Boxx, a Lockheed spokesman.
Any cuts to the Raptor are expected to be resisted by supporters in Congress, who have fought off previous attempts to cut back or cancel the program. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said through a spokeswoman that he remains dedicated to the program.