Pentagon buying chief lodges opposition to bomber, vehicle plans in House bill

The Pentagon opposes provisions in a House defense spending measure that would alter military plans for two combat vehicle programs and place stipulations on a project to develop a new bomber aircraft.

The ongoing saga surrounding an effort to build a second engine for the F-35 fighter fleet is expected to receive ample debate this week as the House considers 2012 Defense authorization legislation. But in a May letter, a top Defense Department official makes clear the Pentagon will push back on lawmakers’ desire to require a new long-range bomber be developed with two power plants.

A provision in the House Armed Services Committee-written policy bill would mandate the Pentagon hold a competition for the power plant that will propel the Air Force's next bomber aircraft.

In a letter sent to House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter called it “inappropriate and premature to mandate in statute what the acquisition strategy should be for a subsystem of one element of this program.”

“A major tenet of the new bomber program is to maximize re-use of existing systems,” Carter wrote. “Very realistic opportunities exist, which do not require development of a new engine.”

The Hill obtained a copy of the letter, which was dated May 9.

Requiring two engines to be built would drive up “cost and risk,” Cater said in the letter.

The letter signals a major difference in approach between the Pentagon and the GOP House.

"Competition works and saves taxpayer money in the long run," Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) has said of competitions for major components of big-ticket weapons programs.

In the letter, Carter also describes the Pentagon’s opposition to the House bill’s approval of $425 million the department did not request for M-1 Abrams tanks and M-2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

“We recognize that we have a difficult industrial base decision to make regarding the future” of a manufacturing plant in Lima, Ohio,” the DOD acquisition boss wrote. 

That is where a substantial amount work the Army’s large combat vehicles is now performed.

Pentagon acquisition officials are “studying the best way to address the workload at [Lima],” Carter said. That assessment should produce final results by December, he noted.

Army and Pentagon officials differ with House lawmakers about whether there is enough work at that Lima facility.

“The workload at [Lima] is currently adequate through late 2013,” Carter said in the letter.

The Army plans to cease production in 2013 of the General Dynamics-made Abrams battle tank. If enacted, it would mark the first time since 1941 that the U.S. military has not had an active tank-production line.

A bipartisan group of 120 lawmakers wrote Army Secretary John McHugh on May 6 opposing those plans.

“The end of Abrams production would shut down the unique national asset that is the U.S. tank industrial base even with the expectation that later in the decade the same industrial base will be required to produce modernized Abrams tanks and/or the Ground Combat Vehicle,” the lawmakers wrote.

The Ground Combat Vehicle is the Army’s project to build a next-generation fighting unit. The program has had several sets of specification, but has been stopped and restarted several times over the last few years.

“The cost of shutdown and restart of Abrams tank production appears to be more than the cost of continued limited production,” according to the lawmakers. “Instead of reconstituting this vital manufacturing capability at a higher cost, it would seem prudent to invest those select resources in continued Abrams production.”