Facing rising Congressional concern over war costs, the Defense Department is cutting spending on its next-generation Joint Strike Fighter warplane to help free up $1 billion that would partially cover the expense of sending 21,500 new troops to Iraq.
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England told the House Budget Committee this morning that the Pentagon would reprogram money from its fiscal 2007 supplemental spending request away from the JSF aircraft and toward the cost of the “surge” ordered by President Bush.
“Because of other pressing needs we will move [JSF] to the bottom of the priority list,” England said. Lockheed Martin manufactures the JSF.
England added that the Pentagon may cut hundreds of millions of dollars for buying five additional Air Force C-130J cargo aircraft. He said that all aircraft, except for helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles, were being reviewed for possible cuts in war spending requests.
England added that the Pentagon was seeking to redirect money in the 2007 emergency request to improve conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which has faced an outcry over poor facilities and neglect of recently wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.
All told, the Defense Department is seeking $93.4 billion to cover war costs for the remainder of fiscal 2007 and an additional $141.7 billion for the wars in fiscal 2008. All of this is classified as emergency spending and does not count against mandatory budget spending caps.
Congress is expected to begin marking up the 2007 supplemental spending request within the next two weeks.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have pressed the Bush administration in recent weeks about the escalating cost of the ongoing military operations and have raised doubts about whether the $5.6 billion being sought is enough to cover the buildup of troops in Iraq. The Congressional Budget Office issued a report earlier this year that found that the troop increase could cost as much as $9 billion once support costs are factored in.
The Pentagon’s fiscal 2007 request seeks $13.9 billion for replacing aircraft or vehicles lost or worn out during the wars, including funding to buy two new F-35 JSFs at about $400 million apiece. The JSF will eventually be fielded to the Air Force and Navy as well as U.S. allies.
England said the two F-35 JSFs would have not been ready for fielding until 2010, but he defended the initial request as the only option for replacing Air Force F-16 fighters that have been lost in combat. He said the JSF would not “show up in time to affect the war.”
Lawmakers have said spending requests for future weapon systems should be made in the regular Pentagon budget request, not emergency war bills.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, said of the request for new weapons, “We are looking at what should really be in the base side of the budget.”