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03 Jan 05. The FT reported that Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary, has rebuffed an effort by the US air force to cut its order of Joint Strike Fighters by a third – a proposal senior air force officials had hoped would save its prized F/A-22 programme.

Air force top brass had sought a cut of about 500 JSFs in their 2006 budget proposal to Mr Rumsfeld – from 1,700 to 1,200 – to find money to fund 277 F/A-22 Raptors, a $72bn (€53bn) programme that recently moved into initial production.

But Mr Rumsfeld, who has never been a strong supporter of the Raptor, refused to back the shift and is expected to submit a request for all 1,700 JSFs when the Pentagon makes its annual budget submission to Congress next month. The Pentagon will instead seek only 180 Raptors, according to people briefed on the decision-making process. The cut is expected to save about $10.5bn during the next six years. Both fighters are built by Lockheed Martin. The battle over the Raptor has been the most hotly contested procurement debate inside the Pentagon under Mr Rumsfeld’s watch. With advanced stealth technology and the ability to fly at supersonic speeds for long distances, the Raptor has been the prized air force programme for almost a generation. But Mr Rumsfeld and some of his closest aides have sought to cut the programme for years, arguing it was a cold war-era fighter designed for outdated high-speed dogfights.

By contrast, the JSF – which will be purchased by the air force, navy and marines as well as the British armed forces – is much cheaper and designed for both air-to-air fighting and the kind of ground-attack missions the Pentagon expects.

“JSF meets Rumsfeld’s criteria for a ‘transformational’ programme,” said Loren Thompson, defence analyst at the Lexington Institute. “It is multi-service, it is multi-mission and it’s low cost.” The $10.5bn cut in the Raptor is part of nearly $30bn in spending cuts during the next six years expected to come in the Bush administration’s 2006 budget request. According to internal budget documents disclosed on Monday by the newsletter InsideDefense.com, the biggest cuts will come in about half a dozen programmes, including the C-130J, a cargo plane that will be cancelled for the air force and curtailed for the Marine Corps saving $5bn, and in missile defence, where a similar saving is sought.

Next to the air force, the most severely affected service is the navy. It will see two ships cut from its new destroyer programme, saving $2.5bn, and the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy retired, saving $1.2bn. Despite the procurement cuts, the Pentagon’s overall budget is expected to remain at 2005 levels because of continuing costs of Iraq.

Comment: The cancellation of the USAF C-130J contract will have ramifications for British companies which are big suppliers to the system as the UK was launch customer. The approval of the huge $5bn upgrade of the existing fleet last year should have sounded warnings. Could this mean that Lockheed Martin will join the A-400M programme, a long term goal of the company? This will reduce Airbus dependence on the programme and enable the company to deploy scarce engineering resources to the A350 programme and the over-budget A380. (See: IS AIRBUS CAUGHT IN A DOWNDRAFT? below)

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