Pentagon has to pay bills, so it cuts back

___The C-130J program is the latest casualty of the war in Iraq. As we reported here on Saturday, the Defense Department could soon halt production of the new airlifter, saving $5 billion. Little Rock Air Force Base will get seven C-130Js rather than the 16 it was scheduled to receive, and construction plans for an additional training center have been halted at a savings of $26.5 million.
___ Altogether, the administration will cut $60 billion out of the military budget for fiscal 2006, which starts in the fall. That's about what it costs to keep our forces in Iraq for a year. The Bush administration has done the math and figured out how it will fund the war in Iraq. The administration will pay for the war with the savings from next year's military budget, which suggests the U.S. could leave Iraq in 18 months because beyond that you can't cut an overextended military much more.
___ Addressing the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council luncheon on Tuesday, Maj. Gen. William Wayne Hodges, who works in the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisitions at the Pentagon, confirmed many of the cuts discussed in the media recently. "There will have to be some changes made if there's legislation terminating the (C-130J) program," Hodges said. Even if the military isn't too happy with the proposed cuts, once Congress approves them, he said "your Air Force will salute smartly" and do its job with what it has.
___ "We have a higher priority to pay bills. More money is going to the Army," he said, apparently referring to the war in Iraq. He suggested that congressional and community leaders could mobilize to prevent many of the proposed cuts. Unless Congress overrules the Defense Department's new slim-down policy, the Pentagon will slash not just the C-130J, but also the stealth bomber, several submarines and other weapons programs. Every congressional district affected will fight to keep its own military projects, including the C-130J training program at the base, which would see a vastly reduced role if the cuts were approved.
___ After getting a shot in the arm nearly a decade ago, when Pres-dent Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi agreed to boost production of the all-new transport plane that would bring enormous economic benefits to their respective states, the future of the C-130J is now uncertain but it's not necessarily doomed. Back in the 1990s, the C-130J was touted as a major advance, but since then the plane's costs have skyrocketed, and what's worse, Pentagon inspectors have reported that it does not meet contract specifications and cannot perform its operational mission.
___ The plane's contractor, Lock-heed-Martin, disputes those findings, as does Gen. Hodges, who says "the airplane is performing beautifully with a 97 percent capability rate." The C-130J looks terrific and has great features the old Hercules transport planes don't have, but no one has ever criticized those ancient workhorses as being too expensive. They've been hauling cargo for 50 years and are so durable, they could fly for another 50 years, which is why the Pentagon thinks it can make do with fewer C-130Js, at least for now.

--- Past Articles

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