Senator voices concern over proposed weapons program cuts

Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, Tuesday raised concerns over the Obama administration's proposals to cut many of the military's top weapons programs, suggesting, for example, that they could harm the U.S. government's ability to deter potential adversaries.

But during a hearing with Pentagon leaders on the Defense Department's fiscal 2010 budget request, Inouye did not signal how he would address these concerns as his panel prepares to mark up the Defense spending bill later this summer. He said after the hearing that his subcommittee will continue to discuss the concerns with the administration.

"I hope it doesn't send the wrong signal to our potential enemies or our friends that we are reducing our capabilities," said Inouye, who also heads the full Appropriations Committee. "I also hope it will not diminish our military industrial base. I hope that it will not diminish our deterrence posture and the strength that we provide to our allies."

During the hearing, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen defended their budget request, which calls for major changes and terminations for dozens of military programs, including the Army's Future Combat Systems and the Navy's DDG-1000 destroyer.

The request also would end production of several programs that are popular with lawmakers, including the F-22 Raptor fighter jet and the C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane. Still, Mullen said, 35 percent of the $534 billion Defense spending request will pay for modernization programs.

Gates argued that the request balances capabilities needed for conventional warfare against other countries and the types of equipment and skills needed for counterinsurgency operations. Gates also pledged to do "everything in my power" to prevent major cuts in defense spending as long as he is at the helm of the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, Gates said he plans to make a decision within the next 10 days on how to proceed with the new competition for Air Force aerial refueling tankers. Included in those decisions are whether the Air Force or his office will oversee the competition, as well as what mechanisms will be in place to ensure a fair, open and transparent process. Gates added that he plans to ask Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn "to take a very close interest in this process."

Last year, a team led by Northrop Grumman Corp. and EADS, the European consortium behind Airbus, beat out Boeing Co. for the contract to build the tankers, worth an estimated $35 billion.

But the Government Accountability Office upheld Boeing's protest of the award and the Pentagon canceled the contract. A request for proposals, which officially launches the new competition, is expected sometime this summer.

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