Two dozen senators yesterday criticized a Pentagon proposal that would eliminate Lockheed Martin Corp.'s C-130J Hercules aircraft to save nearly $5 billion over the next six years.
"You can't turn on the TV today without seeing a C-130 at the airport in Iraq; you can't turn on the TV without seeing the C-130" delivering supplies as part of the tsunami relief in South Asia, said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).
The Pentagon has proposed ending the program as part of more than $30 billion in cuts aimed at reducing the federal budget deficit and offsetting the costs of the Iraq war. The proposal also includes a cut in funding for Lockheed's F/A-22, Boeing Co.'s national missile defense system and several Northrop Grumman Corp. shipbuilding programs.
Canceling the C-130J, which is used to transport troops and supplies around the world, would cost $800 million, and billions more to upgrade the aging planes in the current fleet, said Chambliss, whose home state includes a Lockheed plant that builds the aircraft. Chambliss and 23 other senators sent a letter to President Bush yesterday calling the proposal "ill advised." Lockheed has said that if the C-130J and the F/A-22 are phased out by the end of the decade as the Pentagon proposals forecast, it would be forced to close its Georgia plant, which employs 8,000.
If the U.S. military stops buying the C-130J, it could also make it more difficult for Lockheed to compete for foreign contracts, industry analysts said. "Lots of people need some kind of tactical airlift that can get out of lousy airfields, and old planes do wear out," said Joel Johnson, vice president of international affairs at the Aerospace Industries Association. "Do you want to face a position where the only medium-sized tactical airlift is produced by Airbus?"
The campaign for the C-130J kicks off what is expected to be a contentious budget season. Already, several Florida lawmakers and the state's governor, Jeb Bush, have promised to fight a proposed early retirement of the USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier. The Air Force has also said it would argue for more funding for the F/A-22. "We will make our case, but we will also live with the results" of the budget process, Gen. John P. Jumper, Air Force chief of staff, said yesterday after piloting an F/A-22. "The airplane is all [the military] wanted it to be and more."
For defense contractors, the budget tightening marks a significant shift from the post-Sept. 11, 2001, boom when the Pentagon's procurement spending grew from $58 billion in 2000 to $82 billion last year, including funds from the supplemental packages for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "There is a sensitivity to the problems the president is facing, but that doesn't mean there won't be a fierce fight, individual company by individual company," said John Douglas, president of the Aerospace Industries Association.
The proposal is obviously "a line in the sand, and lines in the sand are going to take work to remove. Things that are in that [proposal] will have to be argued away with a great deal of effort and a great deal of logic because once it's there, it takes a great deal to remove it," said Marvin R. Sambur, the Air Force's outgoing acquisition chief.
The budget proposal includes broad cuts to Navy programs, which the American Shipbuilding Association has predicted would exacerbate an industry downturn already expected to lead to thousands of layoffs through the rest of the decade. "Every shipbuilding program in the budget is . . . either being reduced in the number of ships, or they're ending the program prematurely," or delaying it, said Cynthia L. Brown, president of the industry association.
Under the proposal, the Navy would continue to build one submarine a year, delaying earlier plans to double production. Currently, General Dynamics Corp. and Northrop share the work, with one contractor building half the sub then shipping it to the other shipyard to be completed. But some critics have long pegged this as an expensive and inefficient process.
The budget proposal could force the Navy to push one of the contractors out of the market, industry analysts said. Given budget pressures, the Navy may never be able to afford to build two submarines a year, said Robert Work, a senior defense analysis for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. "I do believe that we're going to go to one maker," he said.