Congress awaits word on plan to cut C-130J

Lawmakers still are waiting for the Pentagon to determine whether to terminate its C-130J Hercules aircraft program as the House and Senate armed-services committees come within weeks of their budget markups.

The decision on the midsize cargo planes affects only a small piece of the Pentagon’s $419 billion budget request for 2006, but could have substantial repercussions on the military’s long-term strategic lift plans and funding.
Patrick g. Ryan
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld


Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in February that he would decide the fate of the C-130J by this month — and, if he opts to salvage the program, submit an amended budget request to Capitol Hill. Rumsfeld’s top aides scrapped the program late last year as part of a larger plan to cut military spending by $30 billion through 2011.

Lawmakers have not yet received a budget amendment. Meanwhile, maker Lockheed Martin and congressional sources said they have not gotten any indication from the department on which way it is leaning.

“I’ve called myself, and I know my staff has, and we haven’t gotten an answer,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said during an April 6 Senate Armed Services Airland Subcommittee hearing.

“We’re going to be in the markup here before long on the authorization bill, and we need to really know what direction the Pentagon wants us to go here,” he added later.

Chambliss and other members of the Georgia delegation have pressed the Pentagon to save the C-130J, which is manufactured at Lockheed’s 7,800-employee Marietta, Ga., plant. The C-130 can lift roughly 20 tons, or the weight of the Army’s eight-wheeled Stryker vehicle.

A Republican aide said this week that Congress has continued to ask the Pentagon about the amendment but has not yet received anything from the department. Members of the House Armed Services Committee begin their budget markup in two weeks; their counterparts in the Senate start two weeks later.

The department is still reviewing the decision, Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Roseann Lynch wrote in an e-mail response to questions. Once a decision is made, defense officials will work with the Office of Management and Budget on whether an amendment is “appropriate or required,” she added.

The Pentagon last year sent a budget amendment terminating the Comanche helicopter program to Capitol Hill in early March, two weeks after it decided to pull funding for the reconnaissance and attack chopper.

Until five months ago, the military planned to purchase 168 C-130J planes to replace airframes that date back to the 1960s. The 2006 budget recommends ending the program, after buying 53 aircraft already in the pipeline, to save the cash-strapped department $5 billion over the next five years.

But termination costs for the program and other associated cancellation fees could soar to $500 million, Air Force officials said in recent months. And the military still would have to buy a next-generation intratheater lift capability to replace its aging fleet.

Despite schedule slips, cost increases and other problems with the 10-year-old C-130J program, Rumsfeld told the House Armed Services Committee in February that he’s reconsidering the decision.

The department is expected soon to wrap up a so-called “mobility capability study,” which could help determine the future of the C-130J program. But that study will not spell out specifically what kinds of lift — and how many airframes — the military needs for current and future missions.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Airland Subcommittee, has asked Pentagon officials to keep Congress abreast of their long-term lift strategy.

“I think we also need to know what the plans are, since there’s clearly a need for tactical airlift,” McCain, who is not a fan of the C-130, said during the April 6 hearing.

McCain’s concerns with the program center on the Air Force’s commercial-type contract with Lockheed Martin, which does not include traditional acquisition regulations or require the company to submit cost and pricing data to government contracting agencies. He expressed similar concerns about the Army’s contract with Boeing on its Future Combat Systems program, which last week the service decided to alter to include standard requirements.

In a recent investigation, the Pentagon inspector general concluded that the Air Force’s use of a commercial-type contract for the C-130J was “unjustified” and that the aircraft itself did not meet operational requirements.

Lockheed spokesman Tom Jurkowsky said the company understands McCain’s concerns and has been responsive to his questions. Robert Stevens, the company’s chief executive officer, has met with the Arizona Republican and plans to meet with him again soon, Jurkowsky added.