Air Force chief vows crackdown on cost overruns

As Capitol Hill becomes more concerned about costly military weapons systems, Air Force Chief of Staff Michael Moseley acknowledged this week that some pricey programs might face his own budgetary ax.

Moseley, who became the Air Force's top officer last month, would not discuss specific programs, but said the service has little tolerance for systems that do not meet cost and schedule goals. "If something keeps dragging on and dragging on and dragging on ... what's the benefit of continuing?" Moseley told reporters Tuesday after a conference at the American Enterprise Institute.

In a report this summer, the Pentagon listed three major Air Force programs as behind schedule: the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, the Global Broadcast Service and the National Airspace System.

The Air Force is developing some of the military's most expensive programs, including the F/A-22 Raptor and the Joint Strike Fighter. Its aircraft inventory is 23.5 years old, making buying new refueling tankers, cargo aircraft and fighter jets a priority.

But Moseley warned that the service does not plan to replace aircraft on a one-for-one basis. For instance, it will not buy a new Raptor for every retiring F-15 fighter jet because of an increasingly constrained budget environment.

"I don't believe Congress will be sending unsolicited pots of gold to the Department of Defense," Moseley said. The Air Force already intends to decrease Raptor buys from 271 to 172 aircraft. Despite rising per-plane costs in the 20-year-old F/A-22 program, Moseley is intent on buying new jets. The F-15A, first in service in 1972, doesn't cut it against today's threats, the chief added.

Moseley also said he wants to buy more unmanned aerial vehicles, which are deployed for surveillance missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Global Hawk unmanned aircraft is "worth its weight in gold," Moseley said. He later added, "This UAV business is powerful."

Meanwhile, Moseley is looking for opportunities to partner with other services on joint programs, echoing congressional requests that the services avoid separately developing -- and funding -- nearly identical systems. "It doesn't bother me at all to spray paint U.S. Navy on one side, and U.S. Air Force down the other side" of an aircraft, Moseley said.

Combining similar efforts across services might cut platform costs by as much as 40 percent, Moseley estimated.

The Senate last week slashed $753 million from the Air Force's research and development accounts when it passed its version of the fiscal 2006 Defense appropriations bill. But the House increased the service's development dollars by $52.5 million, making that account a likely issue of contention when conference negotiations begin later this fall.

Nonetheless, both chambers have approved a $125 million reduction to the Air Force's Space Radar program. Lawmakers have said they fear the Pentagon does not have a clear acquisition plan for the program, which would expand its global-surveillance capabilities.

When asked whether Space Radar might be targeted for cancellation by the Air Force itself, Moseley said it would not.

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