Budget Proposal Would Also Cancel New Bomber Program
We might soon know how the Obama
administration plans to balance a number of high-dollar military
programs, against slumping markets and a sluggish economy... and it
isn't pretty. Citing three sources close to discussions now
underway on the President's first defense budget, Congressional
Quarterly reports the White House may tell the Pentagon to scrap
all plans for a new long-range bomber... and, to push off a
decision on the KC-X aerial refueling tanker program by five
As ANN reported in late February, the White
House held off releasing full details of an expected $533.7 billion
fiscal 2010 Defense budget until sometime in April, saying more
time was needed to review the process. CQ sources say the Office of
Management and Budget submitted several "offset options" to the
Pentagon, including the two noted above, where to cut money to free
up funds for other military programs, such as the F-22 Raptor and
F-35 Lightning II.
If those reports are accurate, defense analysts say it's a sign
there's a new sheriff in town over at OMB.
"OMB is beginning to show itself as a breath of fresh air after
decades of prostrate compliance with Pentagon wishes," said Winslow
Wheeler, head of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center
for Defense Information.
Still, those decisions -- in particular, the KC-X delay --
aren't likely to win many friends in the armed forces, or on
Capitol Hill. Advocates for both the tanker and bomber say cutting
those programs will hurt US strategic power, by forcing the Air
Force to continue reliance on decades-old planes to fulfill those
"The Air Force needs a new tanker desperately," said Air Force
Association president Lt. Gen. Michael Dunn (Retired). "The KC-135
tanker averages over 47 years old, and the B-52 bomber is almost as
While opposition to the bomber cancellation may not have such a
loud voice, as the program
is still only in the development stages...
lawmakers with vested interests in KC-X are expected to fight
tooth-and-nail against the OMB's proposal, if it comes to
"For a group who has been in the OMB for just a matter of weeks
to come in and suggest the cancellation of the Number 1 Air Force
priority for procurement is stunning, and I don't think Congress
will accept that," said Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions.
EADS/Northrop Grumman plans to build a manufacturing and final
assembly plant in Mobile if its Airbus A330-derived KC-45A is
awarded the final KC-X contract.
As ANN reported, the KC-45A won the last round
of bidding on KC-X in February 2008... but the decision was tossed
out by the Pentagon later that year, after the Government
Accountability Office upheld a protest from Boeing that the Air
Force had miscalculated future operating costs to the advantage of
the KC-45, over Boeing's 767-sourced KC-767.
Senator Sam Brownback -- representing Kansas, where Boeing would
do final assembly work on the KC-767 -- expressed similar
displeasure, calling the OMB guidance to delay the program "deeply
"The longer we wait to begin building tankers, the more we
jeopardize our many global operations, from war-fighting to relief
efforts, which depend on this vital platform," he said.
Brownback and Sessions are both Republicans... so one might
reasonably expect them to oppose any controversial proposal
submitted by a Democrat administration, even if they didn't already
have vested interests in the decision. However, the aide to one
Senate Democrat told CQ opposition to the KC-X delay is crossing
"There is an effort among senior senators in both parties to
make sure that we get moving quicker on the air refueling tanker
contract," said the aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity,
who added a letter to that effect is now being drafted to Deputy
Defense Secretary William Lynn by Senators Kent Conrad (D-ND) and
Orrin Hatch (R-UT).
"In the end, Congress will write the appropriations bills," the
aide pointedly noted.