Defense "has not yet recovered from years of neglect in financial management," Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said. (File photo / Agence France-Presse)
The Senate Appropriations Committee lopped $8.1 billion off the 2011 Defense budget on Thursday, mainly by cutting two top-priority Air Force and Navy weapons programs, and trimming dozens of smaller programs.
The appropriators approved cutting Joint Strike Fighter production from 42 planes to 32, and to build just one Littoral Combat Ship instead of two in fiscal 2011, which begins Oct. 1.
The JSF cut could save about $3 billion. It leaves in the budget six planes for the Navy, 10 for the Marine Corps and 16 for the Air Force. The LCS cut is worth $615 million, according to the committee.
Senate appropriators saved another $450 million by not funding development of a second or "alternate" engine for the JSF.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, Appropriations Committee chairman, called the cuts "tough measures." But he said, "We believe in total the package is not only fair, but presents a carefully balanced set of recommendations" that meet security needs for 2011.
The appropriators approved spending $670 billion in defense, which includes $158 billion for fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But it does not include $18 billion to be spent on nuclear weapons and $14 billion for military construction. Those are funded in other budget bills.
President Obama asked the Appropriations Committee for $678 billion, including $159.3 billion to pay for the wars. Overall, he proposed a $726 billion Defense budget for 2011.
The Senate appropriators and their House counterparts are especially budget-minded this year. In July, the House Defense appropriations subcommittee cut Obama's request by $7.2 billion. With elections six weeks away, the $1.4 trillion budget deficit and the $13.5 trillion debt have emerged as volatile issues. Interest payments on the debt have risen to $400 billion a year.
Inouye, D-Hawaii, said the Senate committee's JSF cuts are warranted because the program is behind schedule. "I would inform my colleagues that the Defense Department has not yet awarded a contract to build 30 aircraft which the Congress funded nearly a year ago."
Similarly, with the Navy's LCS, Inouye said that "two ships funded in 2010 have not yet been contracted. Under the new plan, the Navy would seek to award four ships to a single contractor in the coming year. There is virtually no way that the winning contractor would be able to begin construction of four ships in 2011."
Funding for one ship in 2011 "is more than adequate," he said.
Similar reductions were made to "dozens of programs where the requested funding level is above what is required to meet adjusted schedules," Inouye said.
The THAAD missile interceptor program, for example, was cut by $425 million because of production delays.
Inouye said his committee cut support for Iraq Security Forces in half — from $2 billion to $1 billion. The subcommittee also cut funding for the Commander's Emergency Response Program from $1.3 billion to $900 million.
Senators approved $167.3 billion in operations and maintenance spending; the Obama administration requested $200.3 billion.
And they set procurement spending at $104.8 billion — the 2010 level. The administration wanted $112.9 billion.
It wasn't all cuts, though. The administration wanted $76.1 billion for research and development spending; the committee approved $76.2 billion.
The subcommittee also added money for buying more search-and-rescue helicopters for the Air Force and Army, and added $121 million to buy 13 more Standard Missile interceptors for the Navy's missile defense ships. The National Guard and service reserves received $500 million to buy new equipment.
An extra $450 million is allocated for Stryker double-V hull modifications, and $125 million is to go to alternative energy research.
The $158 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan includes money for 24 additional Reaper UAVs, 19 helicopters to replace battle losses, and $1.7 billion to buy ammunition and missiles.
JIEDDO, the organization set up to defeat roadside bombs, is to receive $2.8 billion.
Senators boosted spending on health care by $600 million to care for wounded troops and conduct medical research. Total spending on health care is $31.5 billion.
Inouye included a scolding for Pentagon finance managers. While some cuts were made because programs are far behind schedule, others, particularly those in operations and maintenance accounts, were made "because of lax budgeting practices by the military departments."
Inouye said the Defense Department "has not yet recovered from years of neglect in financial management." The Pentagon's effort to eliminate wasteful spending ought to start with "improving its budget preparation," he said.