Incoming House Armed Services Committee Chair, Howard "Buck" McKeon, today laid out his stance on defense spending as the top man on the committee, backing the embattled F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, its alternate engine program and the Pentagon's efforts to reduce costs.
While the U.S. Marine Corps' F-35B short take-off and vertical landing version of the jet has experienced numerous testing delays over the past year and is unlikely to meet its scheduled operational date of 2012, McKeon said he doesn't want to see it cut.
"If you take that away then what plane are the Marines going to have," asked the congressman. "I would not be supportive of cutting that."
He later added that while the overall F-35 program has had its difficulties, now is not the time to begin cutting jets from the program as Senate appropriators did in their newly released omnibus spending proposal.
McKeon went on to say he will support the JSF's alternate engine program which has been inserted into proposed spending legislation for FY-11 by both the House and Senate despite the threat of a presidential veto.
"Long range, we think it will save money," said McKeon. "To turn over a $100 billion program to one company non-competitively and to have a whole fleet of planes with one engine; if something goes wrong with that engine you have to shut down the whole fleet. I think for reasons of competitiveness, for reasons of safety -- and actually, if you've got people competing you've probably got better engines -- we should have a second engine."
The California republican went on to say that he doesn't fear the longstanding threat by the White House to veto any legislation containing funding for the GE-Rolls Royce-made F136 alternate engine.
"I'm not real worried about that, I don't think the Democrats in the House have got the message that there's been an election but I think the President has with his reaching out on his tax proposal," said McKeon. "I think he will see that we've come out in the last Congress and in this Congress pretty strongly in support of the second engine and I think that's something we can work out...it's a pretty small part of the overall defense bill."
He also voiced support for Defense Secretary Robert Gates' initiative to buy affordable, available weapon systems that will get the job done rather than develop brand new technologies that include every bell and whistle Pentagon planners can dream up.
"We keep spending more money looking for the ultimate" weapons that take so long to develop they are obsolete by the time they're fielded, said McKeon. "What I'd like to get is maybe some understanding where we don't worry about everything having to be the ultimate, maybe 95 percent" of ultimate would be the answer to buying new technologies.
McKeon added later that under his leadership the committee will "be putting forward emphasis on getting rid of programs or efforts that waste money."
That being said, McKeon noted that he does not support the recently unveiled plan by the presidential deficit commission aimed at cutting defense spending by more than $100 billion.
Instead, McKeon backed the Pentagon's own effort to save $100 billion over the coming c years through efficient operations and put that money into investment accounts. That plan, launched by Gates earlier this year, is "more realistic," said McKeon.