Pentagon Warns of F-35 Cuts Under Full-Year Stopgap Spending

The Pentagon would cut purchases of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 by a third if the current deadlock over the next year’s U.S. spending ends in a full-year stopgap bill, according to Comptroller Michael McCord.

“It would be illegal to buy” more than the 38 stealth fighters being purchased this year, McCord said in an interview. “So there’s 19 planes we are not buying if we are in a full-year” extension of current spending.

It was an early warning from the Defense Department on what it considers the worst-case outcome of current federal spending conflicts within Congress and between lawmakers and the White House: Gridlock probably would lead to a short-term “continuing resolution” to keep the government operating when the fiscal year begins on Oct. 1 -- or to reopen it after a brief shutdown.

If such a workaround is later extended for the rest of the year, weapons production rates would be frozen at the previous year’s level while new programs and multiyear contracts are precluded, McCord said.

“It is a possibility,” McCord said of a year-long measure. “I don’t think it’s the most likely possibility, but I can’t rule it out.”

A full-year measure would reduce the Pentagon’s available money in fiscal 2016 to $38 billion below President Barack Obama’s request. That would be a deeper cut than if caps under the Budget Control Act were breached and $36 billion in across-the-board cuts known as sequestration were triggered, he said.

‘It’s Sequester’

“It’s sequester under another name,” McCord said. The Pentagon’s combined fiscal 2016 procurement and research accounts would be hardest-hit, cut by a combined $20 billion from the amounts requested, while the operations and maintenance account would lose $14 billion, McCord said.

“The impact on our people would be relatively slight,” however, McCord said

Under that scenario, McCord said the Navy couldn’t issue a contract for the first in a new class of fleet oiler vessels in a competition between General Dynamics Corp. and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc.

Likewise, the Navy wouldn’t be able to spend $873 million in advance procurement on the last aircraft carrier in the three-ship Gerald R. Ford class because the ship built by Huntington Ingalls is considered a new program, McCord said.

The Navy also would be frozen at spending $1.2 billion on the second carrier in the coming fiscal year, instead of the $1.6 billion requested, he said.

The Pentagon also would lose 352 of the requested 2,081 precision-guided Hellfire missiles by Lockheed, “delaying the replenishment of our warfighting inventory,” McCord said.

McCord said a stopgap funding measure wouldn’t derail the Air Force’s planned award of the contract for its new long-range bomber program. That contest pits Northrop Grumman Corp. against a team of Boeing Co. and Lockheed.

The bomber award would be made with fiscal 2015 money, McCord said. “There will be sufficient ’15 money to award it,” he said.