Gates, lawmaker clash on Humvee program

The Humvee is a popular, quasi-legendary military vehicle — one the military now considers obsolete. But a House panel doesn’t want to let the military stop buying them.

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates clashed Wednesday with Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, over a Pentagon request to shift nearly $900 million from the Army Humvee program to buy systems for the Afghanistan war.

Gates urged the panel to approve a $1.2 billion reprogramming request that would allow the Pentagon to buy intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) gear requested by Gen. David Petraeus, the top American commander in Afghanistan.

But the subcommittee opposed the request because $863 million of it would be moved out of the Humvee program.

According to the Pentagon, the Army has no plans to buy more of the AM General-made vehicles, primarily because they cannot be used where improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are employed.

In an unusually blunt comment, Gates said it appeared the subcommittee is most concerned with protecting a defense manufacturer.

But Young dismissed the allegation and countered that the subcommittee is worried the Army might change its mind and want to purchase more Humvees once the program has closed. That would generate new costs associated with restarting the production line, Young said.

Pentagon officials have in the past flip-flopped on major program decisions, Young said, citing the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV).

“Last year, we wanted to cancel the program,” Young said. “But the Pentagon told us the requirements were still solid.” 

Gates and Marine Corps leaders now, a year later, want to terminate the EFV project and replace it with a less-costly and less-ambitious program.

For Gates, action on the Afghanistan request is already overdue.

He wants the matter resolved “in the next few days” so contracts can be finalized and the needed system fielded and shipped to Afghanistan in time for the spring fighting season, Gates told lawmakers.

If approved, the $1.2 billion would be used to buy a list of new sensors for U-2 spy planes and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as well as electronic warfare and anti-IED protection tools, according to the reprogramming request, which was obtained by The Hill. 

The largest chunk, $706 million, would go for Army purchases of communications and electronics systems, according to the request. It also would provide millions for several classified programs that are initiatives of Gates’s special task force formed to help get ISR equipment to combat troops faster.

Moving the funds from one account to another requires congressional approval. The Humvee funds were first allocated as part of a war-funding bill.

“The money is in a Humvee account. No one wants any more Humvees,” said one defense official. 

The 2011 defense spending bill, which the House passed and which is attached to an unpassed, yearlong continuing resolution, “doesn’t even have Humvee money in it,” the official said. “So what exactly is the problem here?”

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Young repeated his worry of a cost-generating change of heart about the vehicles. 

He pledged to find another way to finance the ISR gear Petraeus has requested.

During the hearing, Young told Gates he wanted to “analyze” other parts of the Army budget from which monies could be drawn.



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