By Emelie Rutherford

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle launched immediate campaigns yesterday to reverse Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ proposed reduction in missile-defense funding, termination of the F-22 jet’s production line, and elimination of the vehicle part of the Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) effort.

Though Congress was on recess when Gates unveiled yesterday his proposed program cuts for the fiscal year 2010 defense budget, lawmakers made clear, as House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) said, "the buck stops with Congress." House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee (HAC-D) Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.) similarly noted Gates’ recommendation is a "first step."

Gates’ proposals–which still have to be vetted by the White House–include: ending production of Lockheed Martin‘s [LMT] F-22 stealth fighter at the 183 ordered and four sought in a supplemental war-funding bill; terminating both increments of Lockheed Martin’s VH-71 presidential helicopter effort and developing a new program; ending production of Boeing‘s [BA] C-17 airlifter at the 205 ordered; halting planning for a next-generation Air Force bomber; terminating the Combat Search and Rescue helicopter competition, and canceling the second Airborne Laser (ABL) prototype aircraft for missile defense from Boeing.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) slammed Gates’ proposal to "significantly restructure" the FCS program by canceling the entire vehicle component of the 14-system program and relaunching the Army’s vehicle modernization program with a new competitive bidding process.

Inhofe, a Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) member, took umbrage with canceling FCS’ eight ground vehicles, including the Non-Line-of-Site Cannon.

"It’s unimaginable that we could let our Army continue to use the Paladin howitzer, a combat vehicle in service for fifty years," Inhofe said in a statement. "Sadly, the modernization of our Army is a ‘can that was kicked down the road’ today, yet again….I pledge to you that I will do everything I can to fight these cuts."

Boeing and SAIC [SAI] have steered the $160 billion FCS effort.

Gates called for cutting $1.4 billion overall from the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and restructuring the overall program to "focus on the rogue state and theater missile threat." In addition to the ABL change, he wants to drop plans for increasing the number of ground-based interceptors in Alaska and axe the Multiple Kill Vehicle program being developed by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon [RTN].

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I/D-Conn.) and five other senators immediately sent Obama a letter opposing the missile-defense reductions.

The "proposals would amount to almost a 15 percent cut in the MDA budget and a major reduction in our missile defense portfolio–actions that we fear could undermine our emerging missile defense capabilities to protect the United States against a growing threat," states the letter, also signed by Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). All of the senators except Kyl and Murkowski–the No. 2 Republican in the Senate and a Senate Appropriations Committee member (SAC), respectively–serve on the SASC.

Lieberman, the chairman of the SASC Airland subcommittee, also said he disagrees with ending F-22 and C-17 production.

"I strongly oppose his decision to halt production of the F-22 Raptor. If we stop the F-22 program now, our industrial base will suffer a major blow before the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter reaches full-rate production," Lieberman said, also noting C-17 concerns.

"Every combatant commander I speak with tells me that we need more of these (C-17) aircraft, and I will work to make sure they stay in production," Lieberman said.

SASC member Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said he is "extremely disappointed" with the F-22 recommendation.

"But this fight is not finished," he added. "I will work to overturn the secretary’s recommendation to continue production of the F-22 to meet the Air Force’s recommendations and ensure America’s air dominance."

Gates did not only propose program cuts. He recommended including funding to support a plan to build possibly three DDG-1000 destroyers at General Dynamics‘ [GD] Bath Iron Works (BIW) in Maine before restarting production of the older DDG-51 combatants at Northrop Grumman‘s [NOC] Ingalls shipyard in Mississippi.

The DDG-1000 and DDG-51 programs currently are shared by the two shipbuildiders, and Gates said their support is vital for his new plan to succeed.

The Navy announced last July it wanted to truncate the nascent DDG-1000 destroyer line at two ships and buy more DDG-51s. Lawmakers, though, did not reach consensus on whether to end the program with two or three ships.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a SASC and SAC member, said having Bath building all three DDG-1000s "is incredibly welcome news."

"I worked hard to convince the president and the Navy to include full funding for a third DDG-1000 in the budget, and I am delighted that they have agreed," she said in a statement.

Gates told reporters "there’s no question that a lot of these decisions will be controversial."

"My hope is that, as we have tried to do here in this building, that the members of Congress will rise above parochial interests and consider what is the best interest of the nation as a whole," he said.

Gates also called yesterday for soliciting bids this summer for an Air Force aerial-refueling tanker from competitors Boeing and a Northrop Grumman-European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. (EADS) team.

Gates said he talked to Murtha about the congressman’s proposal for buying tankers from both competitors to prevent additional contract protests and delays.

"I still believe that it is not the best deal for the taxpayer to go with a split buy," Gates said, expressing optimism another contract protest can be prevented.

Murtha said yesterday the HAC-D "will carefully review the (Defense) Department’s recommendations in the context of current and future threats" when the White House sends the detailed and final defense budget request to Congress in the coming weeks.

"The recommendations made today by Secretary Gates represent an important first step in balancing the Department’s wants with our nation’s needs," Murtha said in a statement that emphasized the words "first step."

Skelton said Gates’ proposed changes are based on changed assumptions about the wars our military must be prepared to fight and reflect "a good faith effort."

"However, the buck stops with Congress, which has the critical constitutional responsibility to decide whether to support these proposals," Skelton said in a statement.

HASC Ranking Member John McHugh (R-N.Y.) said while Republicans appreciate Gates’ effort to shape the Pentagon to fight wars troops are engaged in today they "are concerned about the tradeoffs involved in re-balancing the (Defense) Department," noting proposed missile defense cuts.

"Secretary Gates’ statement includes significant programmatic decisions that seem to be based on assumptions about the current security environment," McHugh said in a statement, adding Congress needs to ensure it understands and agrees with these assumptions.

SASC Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.) said yesterday he "strongly support(s) Secretary Gates’ decision to restructure a number of major defense programs."

"It has long been necessary to shift spending away from weapon systems plagued by scheduling and cost overruns to ones that strike the correct balance between the needs of our deployed forces and the requirements for meeting the emerging threats of tomorrow," McCain said in a statement.