House panel may cut Army modernization programs

Faced with huge unfunded bills for a war-torn Army with declining readiness levels, House defense authorizers are planning to slash significant funds from some of the Army’s modernization programs to balance current and future needs.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Air and Land Forces Armed Services subcommittee, yesterday recommended a cut of $867 million from the Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS), a contract awarded to an industry team of Boeing and Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC).

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The ambitious, $160 billion FCS program is a collection of manned and unmanned vehicles and aircraft linked by a command-and-control network.

But the decision to cut substantially the much-coveted FCS program has prompted concern and resistance from some House Armed Services Committee members. In advance of the full committee markup of the 2008 defense authorization bill next week, these lawmakers will likely make the case for salvaging some of the cuts.  

News of the cuts before the markup has also put Army officials on the defensive, as they try to fight for the program in last-minute meetings with lawmakers.  
But they face some resistance in Abercrombie, who said yesterday that the Army continues to face “serious technology, cost and schedule problems” with the FCS. He added that the Army has “a serious readiness problem” as well as “massive unfunded bills for repairing equipment damaged in combat, adding more troops to its ranks and finishing its modular force conversion.”

“The Army is in trouble,” said Abercrombie. “This situation requires dramatic action to prevent further decay … over the next two years.”

Within the $867 million cut, the subcommittee recommended a reduction of $233 million from the FCS budget for so-called manned ground vehicles; $21 million from its unmanned aerial vehicles program; and $46 million from its robotics program. It would also cut $566 million from systems engineering, of which $362 million would be taken out from so-called contractor or management fees.

Subcommittee ranking member Jim Saxton (R-N.J.) expressed concern yesterday that the cuts in FCS do more than “just steer the program in the right direction.”

“The Army believes this action would have detrimental impact to the FCS program,” Saxton added, indicating that he had met with Army officials before the markup.

Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) said that the proposed cut in the engineering portion would affect how critical information is processed and distributed through the FCS network. “In a stroke of the pen you get rid of one-third of engineering,” Akin said.

The subcommittee is planning to preserve $2.8 million out of a Pentagon request of almost $3.7 billion to fund the non-line-of- sight-cannon, FCS software and hardware, and the so-called first spin-out phase of the program, in which already-developed technologies are given to soldiers.

Abercrombie said that the FCS so far has no operational elements. “They have a few prototypes,” he said. “I am not trying to stop the FCS.” But he hinted at possible efforts to promote more of the kind of capabilities that the successful Stryker combat vehicle has.

In fact, the committee added $294 million for the Stryker, offsetting a reduction of $228 million for the Stryker mobile gun system program, which has been delayed.

The subcommittee also addressed shortfalls in the National Guard by adding $500 million to the request. The Guard has $2 billion in unfunded requirements.

In addition, the committee is recommending a reduction of $470 million in the Army’s plagued Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH). Bell Helicopter won the contract for the ARH two years ago, but the Army recently issued a show-cause letter to Bell asking the contractor to demonstrate why the program should not be terminated.

The cost of the aircraft has nearly doubled, and one out of the four test aircraft crashed. The Army and Bell are still discussing how to salvage the current program, while House authorizers have gone further by recommending that the Army terminate the contract with Bell altogether and start another competition for bids.

The subcommittee is also restricting funds for the Army’s and Air Force’s Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) until the services provide reports — currently three are underway at the Joint Staff level, Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Air Force — on intra-theater airlift requirements to the committee. Pentagon acquisition officials plan to make an official contract announcement by early June.

Among other cuts are $200 million from the Air Force’s new midair-refueling tanker program and $153.3 million from the Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR-X) helicopter. Both programs had excess funds left over from previous years.
Furthermore, CSAR-X is suffering delays due to a controversial contract award that is being contested by industry and investigated by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Air and Land Forces subcommittee also decided to fund a second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, the second year in a row that Congress is defying the Pentagon’s request to eliminate the alternate engine made by General Electric and Rolls-Royce.

Abercrombie has also announced that the committee will allow the Air Force to retire some of its older C-5A Galaxy aircraft and procure additional C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. The committee recommended $2.4 billion for 10 C-17 airlift aircraft in Title XV, which is the 2008 supplemental considered together with the 2008 base budget.

One of the panel’s biggest additions for the supplemental is $2 billion as part of a total committee increase of $4.1 billion for the popular Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, which has a V-shaped bottom that helps deflect the blast of roadside bombs.  

The committee gave the Army the green light to proceed with multiyear procurements for the CH-47 Chinook helicopter, the Abrams tank and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle upgrades.