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GOP Girds For Tough QDR Fight

Capitol Republicans have been banging heads over the last few weeks, trying to figure out how to counter the expected results of the soon-to-be-released Quadrennial Defense Review.

While much of this concern is strictly political -- how do we nail the Democrats on national security issues as we approach the election -- there is genuine concern among some GOP staff and lawmakers that Defense Secretary Robert Gates will stuff some very unpalatable choices down their throats, such as cutting two aircraft carriers from the force, killing the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle and not buying enough F-18 E/Fs to make up for the ever-slowing pace of the F-35 program.

The greatest challenge for the Republicans is simple: Robert Gates, who has drawn the mantle of this QDR tight about his shoulders, stands behind the decisions arrived at during the QDR and he was appointed by a Republican. His national security credentials are impeccable and no one can accuse him of being weak on national defense or a misguided Democrat.

Also, every signal coming out of the Pentagon indicates the 2011 budget will grow in real terms by at least 2 percent. That will make it very hard for the GOP to criticize the general policy approach of the Obama Pentagon. That growth will come, at least in part, by making some hard choices about which weapons systems to buy, something Deputy Defense Bill Lynn hinted at today in a speech at a conference organized by the Institute for the Study of Foreign Policy and Ash Carter, head of Pentagon acquisition, discussed yesterday at the same conference.

Carter said that the double-digit growth of the Bush years "lessened discipline. We need to recapture that discipline." Then he offered what he called Gates' "guiding lights" for how to evaluate a program and determine if it is disciplined enough to survive.

"Number 1 is performance," Carter said. "The second is whether a system is adaptable to a number of circumstances or whether it's good for only thing. And the third, of course, is whether we have enough already. Those are the criteria you saw him use last year and I think he'll use those this year."

My colleague Andrea Shalal-Esa got some good gouge on just what those systems will be in the budget, which should be released Feb. 1. Top of the list are those two programs the Gates' Pentagon loves to try to kill, Boeing's C-17 and the General Electric/Rolls Royce second engine for the Joint Strike fighter. Of course, this also puts the ball in the congressional court, giving the administration a large amount of trade space to work in as it negotiates the final defense budget over the next seven or eight months.

On top of that, Andrea's story for Reuters says that the new CG(X) cruiser will die, along with the plan to build a replacement for the Navy's EP-3 aircraft.

On top of those, "The Pentagon plan also would scrap work on an advanced infrared missile warning sensor program for which Science Applications International Corp and Raytheon Co have been competing, and end a Pentagon human resources system by Northrop Grumman Corp. One document said $500 million had been spent on the Northrop program over 10 years with 'little to show and limited prospects.'"

In keeping with Carter's criteria, the documents Andrea got "showed continued strong funding for shipbuilding, fighter and electronic warfare aircraft and other weapons programs. They also pointed to continued effort to beef up intelligence programs, unmanned systems, cyber security, and enhanced efforts to counter biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

With the fight in Afghanistan incredibly reliant on helicopters and ISR assets, Andrea's story says that:

The Pentagon plans to ask Congress for more than $9.6 billion for various rotary wing aircraft. These include $1.2 billion for Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters; $3.1 billion for different models of H-60 helicopters built by Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp; and $2.7 billion for V-22 tilt-rotor planes built by Boeing and Bell Helicopter, a Textron Inc unit.

The proposed budget request also includes $10.7 billion to continue development and procure 42 Lockheed F-35 fighters under a restructured program aimed at stabilizing cost and schedule, with a main engine built by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies. One additional F-35 is included in the Pentagon's separate war funding request.

In addition, the next generation bomber effort will get $4 billion "over the next five years to maintain the U.S. bomber industrial base, study plans for a possible new bomber, and upgrade existing B-2 and B-52 bombers."

And, in a decision that has been a long time coming, Andrea's documents say that "the Pentagon said it would end its partnership with the Department of Commerce on a polar-orbiting environmental satellite [NPOESS] being developed by Northrop, and develop separate satellite systems."

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