Stalled Defense Bill Could Delay Predators

This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.

If Congress fails to pass a fiscal 2009 defense appropriations bill -- leaving military spending at 2008 levels for the near term -- it would cause numerous planning and contracting problems, the Pentagon's top civilian and uniformed officials said May 20.

For example, according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the department would not have 14 Predator unmanned aerial vehicles it was counting on for fiscal 2009. Also, nearly $9 billion targeted to increase the size of the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps would be lost, as well as $1 billion for search and rescue and $246 million to stand up Africa Command, Gates told the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee.

A continuing resolution (CR) to keep funding the Defense Department without an appropriations bill -- but at the previous fiscal year's levels -- could have a "devastating impact" on both ongoing operations and acquisition programs, said Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"It brings the organization almost to a halt, and then when you get to execute, you execute very inefficient, very late contracts, which is a significant waste of money," Mullen added.

Gates said any incremental increase in funding from FY '08 to FY '09 would be lost under a CR.

The issue of a delay in FY '09 funding was raised by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), senior Republican on the full Appropriations Committee. He noted that without an appropriations measure, the Army would run out of operations and maintenance money by early July and all of the services would be out of money to pay personnel by late July.

Neither the House nor Senate appropriations committees have cleared their defense spending bills yet while both bodies grapple with the war supplemental spending bill for the rest of FY '08 and part of FY '09.

Tanker

On another topic, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) tried to get Gates to concede that there were questionable aspects to the KC-45 Air Force refueling tanker contract award that Boeing lost to a Northrop Grumman-EADS team.

"It seems to me that from the beginning the Air Force and DOD are part of the problem," said Murray, citing two Government Accountability Office (GAO) studies that found the Air Force did not conduct sufficient analysis in developing its tanker requirements. Boeing, which would have done much of the tanker assembly in Washington state if it had won the $35 billion contract, has protested the award selection process and the GAO is in the middle of determining the merits of the complaint.

Gates deflected Murray's criticisms of the Air Force's decision, noting that he was not an expert on the subject. Gates said he is awaiting completion of the GAO response to the protest.

Read more of this story, some sweet gouge on the increasing 'tanker rancor,' what would you pay for a JSF? and what our friends in Paris want for defense from our Aviation Week friends on Military.com.

-- Christian

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