October 11, 2005

Air Force says some weapons programs may be cut

By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen.
Michael Moseley said on Tuesday certain weapons programs with
"exponential" cost growth and schedule delays may be canceled,
given mounting budget pressures.

He did not identify any targeted programs or say whether
decisions could be made in time to be included in President
George W. Bush's defense budget proposal due in February.

Moseley acknowledged that many Air Force space programs
faced problems but declined to say if they would be the focus
of the review for possible termination.

"We're not opposed to making hard decisions. If we have
programs that have had exponential (cost) growth, and we need
to roll that money back, it's time to be killing things," he
told a conference at the Washington-based American Enterprise
Institute, Washington think tank.

Moseley said modernizing the Air Force's fleet of aircraft
-- which now average 23-1/2 years in age -- was a top priority,
but budgets were growing tight given the war in Iraq and
disaster relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

That meant the Air Force faced some difficult choices,
Moseley said, and programs with chronic delays and runaway cost
growth could be put on the chopping block.

"We're working our way through this," he told reporters
after his speech.

Asked if Space Radar, a satellite program led by Lockheed
Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. that aims to boost U.S.
ability to track moving targets, was one of the programs that
could be canceled, Moseley said no.

Space Radar is expected to cost about $34 billion to
acquire and operate for 12 years, but lawmakers have cut its
funding back sharply, arguing the Air Force needs more time to
develop the underlying technology.

Moseley underscored the continuing importance of the Air
Force, even in fighting insurgents in Iraq, noting that its
sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles and aircraft played a key
role in assisting U.S. troops.

He said the military services had become truly
interdependent in fighting wars, a fact which could help the
services join forces on intelligence work and other
surveillance functions that are now being done separately.

"We have lots and lots of data that shows this is the way
to go," Moseley said, noting that the Air Force was in
discussions with the Navy and the Army about using the same
aircraft and possibly the same sensors to carry out separate
surveillance functions for different services.

"We're at a juncture now where we can combine these for a
much more synergistic effect," he said, noting that ordering
more aircraft could drive down the unit price of each one.

Potentially, he said, the military could save from 25
percent to 40 percent on the cost of the aircraft by combining
separate surveillance and reconnaissance programs.

In addition, he said the Air Force and Army were also in
talks about joining together to buy a light cargo aircraft.

The Army's Future Cargo Aircraft competition is already
underway, but Moseley said the Air Force needed to complete an
analysis of the alternatives before joining that program.