Appropriator ready to slash funds for Army future combat program

House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., plans to make a significant cut in the Army's Future Combat Systems program when his panel marks up the annual Defense spending bill next month.

The cut, Murtha said Friday, would be in the same "range" as the $867 million slashed from the Army's $3.7 billion request for the program in the House-passed fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill.

"The money is never going to be there for the Future Combat Systems," Murtha said, echoing the concerns of many lawmakers that the $160 billion program is too expensive given the Army's more immediate budgetary needs. The technological core of the Army's transformation efforts, FCS is a vast system of manned and unmanned air and ground vehicles tied together by a complex electronic network.

In addition to the FCS cut, Murtha said he would add money for more C-17 Globemaster III cargo planes. But he would not comment on whether he would add the $2.4 billion for 10 planes authorized in the House's version of the defense authorization bill. "I don't know how many," Murtha said. "They're as expensive as hell."

As expected, Murtha said he wants to add money to build several more ships next year, as his colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee have done. The ships would include a LPD-17 amphibious transport dock ship, a T-AKE auxiliary dry cargo dock carrier and advanced procurement funds for another Virginia-class submarine. Unlike the House Armed Services Committee, Murtha said he may proceed with plans to add two Littoral Combat Ships to the budget, despite hefty cost overruns that now plague the program.

Although he wants to buy two more LCS's next year, Murtha acknowledged he is "not happy" with the program. "It's not a stable program," he said.

House Armed Services Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee Chairman Gene Taylor, D-Miss., backed off his own plans to add two Littoral Combat Ships to the authorization measure, after the Navy decided in April to cancel Lockheed Martin Corp.'s third LCS. Navy officials wanted Lockheed Martin to agree to a more stringent contract because of the ballooning cost of the company's first ship, but service officials were unable to negotiate a modified contract.

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