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Cuts proposed for big weapon programs

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

WASHINGTON -- The nation should stop pouring billions into futuristic, superexpensive F-22 jet fighters, pull the plug on new presidential helicopters and put the money into systems U.S. soldiers can use against actual foes, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday.

Major overhaul plans laid out by the Obama administration's Pentagon chief would slash several giant weapons programs -- and thousands of civilian jobs that go with them. With recession unemployment rising, Congress may balk at many of the cuts in Gates' proposed $534 billion budget for the coming year.

Still, despite all the talk of cuts, the total figure would rise from $513 billion for 2009, and Gates spoke of using money more wisely, not asking for less.

Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, said he is gearing Pentagon buying plans to the smaller, lower-tech battlefields the military is facing now and expects in coming years. He also said he hopes lawmakers will resist temptations to save outdated systems that keep defense plants humming in their home districts.

The Pentagon, he said, wants to move away from both outdated weapons systems conceived in the Cold War and futuristic programs aimed at supersophisticated foes.

Gates said he would expand spending on equipment that targets insurgents, such as $2 billion more on surveillance and reconnaissance equipment. That would include funding for 50 new Predator drones such as those that have rained down missiles on militants hiding along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

"We must rebalance this department's programs in order to institutionalize and finance our capabilities to fight the wars we are in today and the scenarios we are most likely to face in the years ahead," he said.

Major programs facing cuts include the F-22 Raptor, the military's most expensive fighter plane at $140 million apiece. An action movie come to life -- sleek, fast and nearly invisible -- the Raptor is ill-suited to deterring roadside bombs in Iraq or hunting insurgents who vanish into the Afghan mountains.

Gates says the Pentagon won't continue the F-22 program beyond 187 planes already planned. Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed, the nation's largest defense contractor, has said almost 95,000 jobs could be at stake.

Gates also said no to a new fleet of Marine One presidential helicopters -- with a price tag of $13 billion, more than double the original budget.


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