Gates Warns of ‘Serious Disruptions’ in Budget Delays

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Congress today that delays in passing this year’s military budget will cause “serious disruptions.”

Gates also repeated his opposition to continued funding of a spare engine for the Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 jet fighter, which he said would waste almost $3 billion. The U.S. House voted later in the day 233-198 to back Gates and kill the spare engine program.

Gates, in his “fifth and final” round of defense budget hearings in Washington, warned that pending stopgap spending legislation for fiscal 2011, which began Oct. 1, would “damage procurement and research programs.” Gates has said he will retire later this year.

Interim spending legislation in effect through March 4 projects a core Pentagon budget for the current year at about $526 billion, about $24 billion less than the Pentagon request.

Gates told the House Armed Services Committee the stopgap legislation, if extended for the full year, would “fall heavily on operations and maintenance accounts” but also weapons buying and research.

It “would damage procurement and research programs, causing delays, rising costs, no new program starts and serious disruptions in production of some of our most high demand assets,” such as drones, he said.

The Pentagon is requesting $671 billion for fiscal 2012, starting Oct. 1, $37 billion less than this year’s request.

Iraq and Afghanistan

The new request includes $553 billion in core Department of Defense spending, including weapons procurement, and $117.8 billion in military spending in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gates reiterated his opposition to the General Electric Co. F136 alternative engine for the F-35 jet program. While the Pentagon has opposed the program since fiscal 2007, Congress has repeatedly restored funding.

The House voted today to cut off engine funding as part of its debate on a 2011 budget bill. The Senate would take up the bill following House action.

“The Congress has not spoken with one voice on this matter and the department has been operating this fiscal year under ambiguous guidance at best” so the Pentagon will continue to spend $28 million a month on the program, Gates said.

Continuing the GE program “would be a waste of nearly $3 billion,” Gates said.

Gates’s estimate was challenged last year by nonpartisan congressional auditors.

General Electric’s program may cost less than the Pentagon’s $2.9 billion estimate, the Government Accountability Office said in a Sept. 15 report.

The projection “does not include the same level of fidelity and precision normally associated with a detailed, comprehensive estimate,” the GAO wrote.