U.S Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Pentagon's top military officer Wednesday defended their proposals to cut spending on several weapons programs. The two officials faced skeptical members of Congress who fear the 2010 defense budget will doom weapons manufacturing in the home districts.
Two wars have have cost the U.S billions of dollars. Next year for the first time, the cost for fighting in Afghanistan will overtake spending on the Iraq war. That reflects the new administration's emphasis on fighting insurgents in Afghanistan.
"The challenges before us are great: We have two wars to fight and to win," said Congressman Ike Skelton.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a key congressional committee his budget focuses on the present conflicts. "The responsibility of this department, first and foremost, is to fight and win wars not just to constantly prepare for them," he said.
Gates proposes a U.S. Defense Department budget geared toward fighting insurgents on lower tech battlefields.
A key Republican on the committee, Representative John McHugh objected. He pointed to the Pentagon's study of military tactics called the Quadrennial Defense Review or QDR. "Did the world change so much since the last QDR that we are somehow at less risk and require less capability?," he asked.
The defense secretary wants to de-emphasize older weapons and to quit building futuristic, so-called Fifth Generation, weapons.
The F-22 Raptor, for example, costs $140 million each. Yet, none of the jet fighters has flown a combat mission in Afghanistan or Iraq. But stopping the production of the Raptor could mean a loss of nearly 95,000 jobs from the nation's largest defense contractor. A top Democrat on the panel, John Spratt, also questioned Gates. "Are you concerned about stopping the F-22 at 187 planes and worried about attrition on that force?"
"I think it's important to make clear to everybody that we are not cutting the F-22 force. We are completing the program of record that was established in 2005 in the Bush administration. That then called for 183 F-22s," Gates said.
Gates also wants to stop production of a new presidential helicopter. He says the program is more than $6 billion over budget, six years overdue and still doesn't meet requirements. "We need to start over. The president does need a new helicopter over the next several years," he said.
The proposed defense budget for next year totals $534 billion. That's a four percent increase over this year.