Pentagon more likely to tweak than cut weapons programs

Official says 'We’re not out there to kill programs.'

Despite White House plans to cut $400 billion in defense spending over the next 12 years, the Pentagon's No. 2 acquisition official said on Wednesday that he is reluctant to cancel weapons programs to find those savings.

It appears the Pentagon will be more likely to scale back or tweak individual programs than roll out a sequel to the widespread program terminations Defense Secretary Robert Gates proposed in April 2009.

Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's principal deputy undersecretary for acquisition, told reporters he considers eliminating a weapons system to represent a "failure" within the Defense Department to plan for and execute the program well. What's more, particularly within an era of budget-cutting, canceling programs also often means throwing away a significant investment of defense dollars.

"I'm not looking to kill programs," Kendall said. "We're not out there to kill programs."

Any decisions on weapons programs will come as part of a broad review President Obama has ordered of the military's force structure and missions.

Should the Pentagon opt to, as expected, scale back its missions and its force structure to cut its overall cost, the military could cut its planned purchases of planes, ships, and other weapons systems. Kendall said those decisions will have consequences the Pentagon will have to live with.

"We can always buy less -- that can be done," Kendall said. "The question is, what do you give up? And I think we are at a point where we've got to make tough decisions about… mission capabilities we're willing to have less of and be able to do less in the world."

Details on who will lead the comprehensive review of military missions and capabilities -- and how long the review will take -- are still being worked out. But Kendall and other Pentagon officials said the decisions will first affect the fiscal 2013 budget request, which is due on Capitol Hill in February.

"There are consequences for the choices we're going to have to make," Kendall said. "We're just going to have to accept them."