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Congress, Pentagon Still Differ on Future of Joint Common Missile System

Congress and the Pentagon remain at odds over whether the Army should continue developing a multibillion-dollar aircraft missile system.

The $2.3 billion Joint Common Missile system, manufactured by Lockheed Martin and planned for use on Army, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft, has not been a spending priority for the Defense Department since 2004. But Congress has added tens of millions of dollars annually to the program since 2004, including roughly $30 million in fiscal 2007.

The Pentagon has resisted those efforts and only released the money for the Army to work on the weapon at lawmakers’ insistence. In fiscal 2008, the Defense Department once again has proposed no spending on the JCM and said it wants $68.5 million to develop an alternative to the JCM, known as the Joint Air to Ground Missile.

Last week, lawmakers from Alabama — which would gain manufacturing jobs if the JCM is fielded — met with officials from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, including Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England and the Pentagon’s acquisition czar, Kenneth Krieg, to argue for building the JCM, but reached no agreement.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, blasted Pentagon leaders following the meeting in an e-mail response to questions from CongressNow. He called the meeting “disappointing” and accused the Pentagon of “ignoring the cost and performance benefits” of the weapon.

Shelby said there is a clear military need for developing a common missile system and said that building a version other than the JCM would be too expensive and time consuming.

The Pentagon maintains that it’s sticking by a 2004 budget decision that would terminate funding for the JCM program. Defense officials, including Krieg and England, support holding a new competition among defense contractors for building the Joint Ground to Air Missile.

Shelby countered, “It does not make sense to further delay and recompute the program for either the taxpayer and warfighter.”

In the meantime, the Army is declining to terminate a development contract with Lockheed Martin for the JCM. One industry official said Lockheed Martin has “been held hostage” by the Pentagon’s opposition to the program.

The military services have said they would like to buy 2,134 JCMs, with costs split between the Navy and Army.

“We still have a contract, we are still under contract [and] we’ve still been getting money, though at a much reduced rate,” the industry source said. “Krieg keeps saying, ‘I’ve terminated the program,’ [but] the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps who are my customers have not terminated the contract with us, so we’ve continued to perform.”

A Pentagon spokesman said that work has continued on the joint missile’s more promising technologies, including key propulsion and electronic systems, but added that efforts to develop and field the JCM have ceased. JCM technologies could be applied to other missile systems.

An Army spokesman in Redstone, Ala., where work on the JCM technologies continues, insisted that no final decision has been on the JCM’s future, but said that a meeting is scheduled for later this month between Krieg, the Army and Lockheed Martin to try again to resolve the dispute.

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