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Fri, Mar 16, 2007

Cutbacks In Defense Spending Spell Trouble For Raptor, Lightning II

Big-Ticket Jet Fighters Take Back Seat To Troop Needs

Congressional Democrats have made it clear they want to curb spending on defense programs. That may be a problem for contractors like Lockheed Martin, which handles two of the US Air Force's highest-ticket items -- the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

In an analysis released this week, the director of the Arms Trade Research Center at the World Policy Institute, Bill Hartung, says trends indicate defense spending is about to tumble, relative to levels just five years ago.

Hartung notes contractors have collected more than twice the amount of money since President George W. Bush took office -- from $144 billion in fiscal year 2001, to $294 in FY2006.

But last year, the amount of spending increased only 8.7 percent -- the smallest since Bush took office. And that was before Democrats took control of the House and Senate, running on a policy of reduced spending.

"I think we're coming to the end of the boom," he said in an interview with the Dallas Morning News. "The Iraq war will, I think, increasingly deal with nuts and bolts, not big-ticket weapons systems, and there's already some talk about reducing spending on things like the F-22 and Joint Strike Fighter to make room for spending on troop increases."

There is some good news for defense contractors. Hartung expects the drop in spending to impact roughly five percent of the 3,000,000 defense-related jobs -- a far cry from the drastic cuts experienced in the early 1990s, in the aftermath of the Cold War. The analyst adds programs like the Raptor will probably be cut back -- but won't be dropped entirely.

"It's hard to imagine them eliminating a big program like that, but they could certainly cut the number or stretch out the procurement cycle little longer than they already have," Hartung said.



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