Out: More Raptors, VH-71, CSAR-X
ANN REALTIME REPORTING 04.06.09 1500 EDT (DEVELOPING
STORY): Saying he would have made the same budget cuts
regardless of the state of the economy, on Monday Defense Secretary
Robert Gates recommended the Pentagon cut all further funding for
production of the F-22A Raptor, and halting development of the
controversial VH-71 presidential helicopter replacement.
The Associated Press reports Gates termed the $534 billion
budget a "fundamental overhaul" in how the Pentagon goes about
procuring new weapons systems, as well as a shift in strategy from
conventional warfare to insurgent conflicts like Iraq and
"My decisions have been almost
exclusively influenced by factors other than simply finding a way
to balance the books or fit under the top line, as is normally the
case with most budget exercises," Gates said in a prepared release.
"Instead, these recommendations are the product of a holistic
assessment of capabilities, requirements, risks and needs for the
purpose of shifting this department in a different strategic
The proposal is not the final say on what the Pentagon's
ultimate budget will be, or what programs will be saved; that will
come following Congressional debate. It does
show, however, that Gates wants out of several
controversial -- and expensive -- programs.
Under Gates' proposed budget, production of the Lockheed Martin
F-22A would be capped at 187 -- four more than called for under the
current USAF contract. Air Force leaders had wanted as many as 750
of the expensive fighters when the contract was first awarded in
1994, but later pared down its request to 381 planes. Though highly
capable in the arena of modern aerial dogfighting,
each F-22 also costs $140 million... and is of
dubious value in the realm of modern warfare.
Arguably even less-loved by Gates at the Pentagon is
the VH-71 presidential helicopter replacement
program... an $11.2 billion boondoggle that has seen
original cost estimates more than doubled. At $400 million apiece,
each new VH-71 helicopter -- built by a consortium made up of
Lockheed Martin and AgustaWestland -- costs more than the last Air
Force One did in the late 1980s.
Now in testing, the advanced helicopters were slated to replace
the current aging fleet of Sikorsky VH-3D and VH-60N helicopters,
and offer command and control capabilities similar to those
available to the President on AF1. Gates counters the current
helicopters, though long-in-tooth, are still sufficient for the
purpose of ferrying the President from the White House to Andrews
Air Force Base, and Camp David.
Another helicopter program on the chopping block is the Combat
Search-and-Rescue helicopter, or CSAR-X. In what the Air Force had
originally hoped would showcase the branch's procurement prowess,
CSAR-X has instead turned into something more resembling "The Three
Stooges Attempt To Buy A Helicopter."
As ANN reported, the Air Force named Boeing's
HH-47 -- a variant of the erstwhile Chinook -- as the winner of
CSAR-X in November 2006. That determination was promptly protested
by the losing bidders Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin... and after
some hemming and hawing, the Air Force agreed to put CSAR-X up for
rebid in March 2007, with a planned ruling by the fall.
However, the USAF was forced to change its Request-For-Proposal
once again last November, after those companies took their protests
to the Government Accountability Office. As of today,
the contract is still under RFP status.
"It is important to remember that every defense dollar spent to
over-ensure against a remote or diminishing risk -- or in effect to
run up the score in a capability where the United States is already
dominant -- is a dollar not available to take care of our people,
reset the force, win the wars we are in and improve capabilities in
areas where we are underinvested and potentially vulnerable," Gates