July 29, 2005

Pentagon weighs Joint Strike Fighter cuts – source

By Charles Aldinger

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. defense officials are
considering proposals to slash the $245 billion Joint Strike
Fighter program by hundreds of planned jets to save money, a
source briefed on the discussions said on Friday.

The source, who asked not to be identified, confirmed a
report in Friday's Financial Times that the Defense Department
could decide to make deep cuts in the Lockheed Martin Corp.
effort -- the nation's most expensive arms program -- later
this year.

The jet, being developed in three models with Britain and
seven other U.S. allies, is not yet in production. Of the
tentatively planned 2,400 U.S. aircraft, the Air Force would
get some 1,700, the Marine Corps at least 400 and the Navy up
to 300.

The Financial Times said Pentagon officials were discussing
possibly dropping the Air Force or Navy versions.

Defense Department spokesman Lawrence Di Rita told
reporters on Friday that fiscal 2007 U.S. defense budget
decisions would not be made until later this year. He denied
that possible cuts in the JSF were already under discussion by
a high-level Pentagon review group.

"It (the report) is premature. We have not gotten into
individual program discussions as yet," Di Rita said.

He conceded some defense officials might be discussing the
JSF issue at lower levels and saying, "Well, I think I'll dial
back on the JSF" to save money.

"But they are not the ones that are going to be thinking
about what will this do to our relations with all these
(international) partners. Those are factors that the
decision-makers have to consider in addition to the numbers,"
Di Rita added.


The source told Reuters he had been briefed by several
senior defense and industry officials familiar with the debate.

"It is true that they are not at a decision-making point,
but it is not true that they haven't discussed some of these
options," the source said.

Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group, said the
Marine Corps was pressing hard to retain its version of the
JSF, which would be capable of short takeoffs and vertical

Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Group,
said the Pentagon discussions were relevant to planning for the
2007 budget and were part of the Defense Department's
Quadrennial Defense Review of America's security posture.

"The issue, from their point of view in the Pentagon, is
that they need to save money," Thompson told Reuters.

"You do not save money by saying that the Air Force is
going to buy fewer JSFs. You save money by saying that there
will be one less JSF version, because that program is not even
in production yet," Thompson said.

Don Stewart, a spokesman for U.S. Republican Sen. John
Cornyn of Texas, said there were "rumblings about the same time
last year" the JSF and F/A-22 fighters, both Lockheed programs,
would be cut.

"We have been talking to the Pentagon since the first time
it came up. We have concerns," Stewart told Reuters. But "there
is plenty of support for those aircraft, not just from
home-state production, but also from people who are concerned
about future threats."