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Two Big Air Scoops

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Two great Pentagon business stories today, one from Defense Tech friend and congressional defense beat reporter Josh Rogin and another scoop from our boy Colin Clark at DoD Buzz.

As our readers know, Pentagon chief Gates put a major clampdown on any leaks from the Obama defense budget planning. My colleagues on the budget beat have been majorly frustrated with the lack of string for story-hungry editors (myself included).

As the "April" deadline for specifics on the '10 budget details approaches, cracks are starting to form.

First off, Rogin reports at Congressional Quarterly that the Obama admin has decided to delay purchase of a new tanker by five years and cut out altogether the Next Gen Bomber program (though he's quick to point out no final decision has been made).

Both of these are huge mistakes, in my opinion. The KC-135 has a few more years left on it for sure, but delaying it another five means delaying it another 10 in reality. It's one of those unsexy things that aren't that much fun to buy, but "you're sure glad you have them when you need them" kind of things that pushed off into the future could mean serious problems for a force as expeditionary as ours.

And the NGB...again, bombers have proven themselves to be highly adaptable platforms for a wide range of missions and munitions. They last a long time and evolve well to the threat. Our current fleet is either too small (B-2) or too old (B-52) to meet the long loiter, long range, heavy payload demands of operations, so it seems a big error to shunt this one to the side as well.

Also, Colin has an excellent grab from sources on the JSF/F-22 plans coming out of DoD. He hears that the F-22 line will be kept open, with production funding for as many as 40 more planes, and that the F-35 will be trimmed back from plans in 2010, but ramp back up in 2011 and the POM (though he has no numbers to attach to Lightning II buys).

This info would seem in line with persistent rumors that Gates and Co. will salami slice the F-22 buy, largely because they know that Congress will fund it, desperate to keep those jobs going. The F-35 trim is apparently the tactical trade-off for continuing the F-22 production. The strong out-year funding would be proof that the Pentagon remains strongly committed to the F-35, a signal that allies will peer at as closely as an anthropologist watches a rare ceremony celebrating, say, fertility.

Couldn't have said it better myself...We know how Congress works, don't we?

-- Christian

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