Armed forces told to cut or postpone new weapons

August 23, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Searching for more than $15 billion to finance pay increases and better housing for troops, Deputy Defense Secretary John M. Deutch has ordered the Army, Navy and Air Force to prepare plans to cancel or delay many new weapons systems in development.

Mr. Deutch's two-page memorandum, sent Thursday to the armed services, reflects the priority of the Pentagon's top leadership to keep the declining number of U.S. troops in good spirits and combat-ready, at the expense of buying new fighter jets, warships and submarines.

But critics of this approach contend that the Pentagon has programmed more in its long-range budget than it can afford, and is now jeopardizing the nation's security by waiting to replace aging weapons and equipment until the next decade.

The cuts could also cost thousands of jobs at military factories in Texas and Georgia, where Lockheed Corp. will build the Air Force's F-22 fighter.

The Clinton administration has concluded that the end of Cold War offers an opportunity to cancel or significantly stretch out several costly weapons that were designed to counter the Soviets, and to shift that money to readiness and research accounts.

Defense Secretary William J. Perry plans eventually to replace older equipment using savings from base closings and streamlined Pentagon buying practices.

But the General Accounting Office said last month that the Pentagon may have overstated savings and underestimated costs by more than $150 billion in its $1.2 trillion budget for 1995 to 1999.

Mr. Deutch's memorandum directs the armed forces to consider changes to 10 programs, including the following:

* Canceling the Army's new Comanche scout helicopter, developed by Boeing Co. and the Sikorsky division of United Technologies Corp.

* Delaying by up to four years the initial purchase of 422 F-22 fighter jets for more than $70 billion, to be built by Lockheed and Boeing.

* Stretching out the purchase of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers to be built at Bath Iron Works in Maine and the Litton Industries shipyard in Mississippi.

* Canceling the Marine Corps' V-22 Osprey, an aircraft that takes off like a helicopter and flies like an airplane, and is being developed by Boeing and Bell helicopter unit of Textron Inc.

"Unless people give us more money, our emphasis on readiness leads us to make very tough choices about modernization," Mr. Deutch said in a telephone interview yesterday. "This is designed to make sure we have funds for readiness, pay raises for our military people and quality-of-life issues like housing."

The contents of the memo were first reported yesterday by The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

By targeting some of the most expensive and prominent next-generation weapons, Mr. Deutch, acting at Mr. Perry's direction, is forcing the military services to justify the systems' costs at a time when senior Pentagon officials are paying more attention to quality-of-life matters to insure the best officers and enlisted troops stay in the armed forces.

The services must submit their options to Mr. Deutch by Sept. 7 for review in a series of high-level meetings in mid-September.

Mr. Perry and Mr. Deutch, working with Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will then decide which weapons to spare and the "handful" that will be canceled or delayed, Mr. Deutch said.

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