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House to consider $409 billion defense bill

Renae Merle Washington Post

WASHINGTON – The House is expected to consider a $409 billion defense appropriations bill this week, with legislators targeting several programs for cuts and others for generous increases.

Top on the hit list is a Lockheed Martin Corp. cruise missile program, which the appropriations committee bill would end. It also would slash $1 billion from a Northrop Grumman Corp. program to build a new Navy destroyer.

In report language, the committee said its recommendation to kill the missile was “due to repeated test failures” and that the cuts in the Northrop DD(X) ship were attributed to its increased cost and technical difficulties. Supporters, however, note that the appropriation battle is still in the early stages. Any bill passed by the House must be reconciled with a Senate version, which has yet to move out of committee.

This week’s vote comes at a time when the Pentagon’s acquisition system has been under criticism because of procurement scandals and continued cost overruns. In a memo last week, Gordon R. England, the acting deputy secretary of defense, ordered a 30-day study of the acquisition process, citing “a growing and deep concern within the Congress” and the Pentagon about how weapons systems are purchased.

In an era of high defense spending to support the war in Iraq, the bill would appropriate $363.7 billion for Pentagon programs for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, up about 3 percent from last year’s budget. It also would cut $3 billion from President Bush’s budget. It allocates an additional $45.3 billion to support troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, money the White House has not yet requested.

The bill would generously fund many programs, setting aside nearly $5 billion for the multi-service Joint Striker Fighter and $3.2 billion for Lockheed’s F/A-22 jet, and adding money for four Navy ships the Pentagon didn’t ask for.

It also would take aim at several programs, including the Future Combat System, a massive Army modernization program, and Global Hawk, an unmanned aerial vehicle. And it would cut about 2 percent from the $7.63 billion request for ballistic missile defense. The bill would appropriate $3 billion for the Future Combat System run by Boeing Co., about $400 million less than the administration requested. Funding for the Global Hawk made by Los Angeles-based Northrop would be reduced by $120 million.

One of the most significant hits in the legislation is taken by Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed’s $2 billion Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile program, known as JASSM. “The Committee has lost the confidence it may have had in JASSM’s ability to achieve even its minimal reliability and mission performance requirements,” the report accompanying the bill said. The bill would provide $2 million to cancel the program. The administration requested $150 million.

Lockheed “is working with the Air Force to address reliability issues” and is preparing for additional testing in July, Mike Inderhees, the JASSM program director at Lockheed, said in a statement. The company has already delivered 216 of the missiles.

The committee noted that the cost of Northrop’s DD(X) destroyer has increased significantly, to about $2.75 billion each, and the ship has encountered technical difficulties. The cost is double that of an earlier destroyer, the DDG-51. “Although not unusual for a program of this size and complexity, these (technical) difficulties highlight the fact that much development work remains to be done,” the report said.

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