By Marina Malenic

Pentagon officials said last week that they intend to recommend termination of still more weapons acquisition programs in an effort to divert more than $100 billion to current forces and modernization priorities for the next five years.

“To get $100 billion, you’re going to have to identify lower-priority programs that are not going to be part of future budgets,” Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn told reporters during a June 4 briefing at the Pentagon.

The Pentagon leadership is asking the military services to find $2 billion each in non-essential costs in Fiscal 2012. The savings will be transferred to higher priorities within the services’ own budgets. The armed services, Pentagon agencies and combatant commands are expected to submit cut proposals by July 31.

“History tells us that this will be very hard,” Lynn admitted.

He also said the Pentagon needs 2 to 3 percent real growth to maintain warfighting capabilities but that its top line is only expected to grow by about 1 percent per year in the immediate future.

“This is an effort to develop that 2 to 3 percent with these internal changes, these efficiencies, and these reductions in overhead and infrastructure,” he said. “If we’re able to reduce overhead accounts where we don’t need those increases, shift it to the force structure and modernization accounts, we can get that 2 to 3 percent [real growth] and we can do what we think we need to do in technology refresh, modernization, protecting quality of life and all those critical factors.”

Asked whether the department might decrease its projected buy quantity for the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to save money, Lynn said officials are “not looking at fundamental changes” in the buy quantity but that at the same time “nothing is off the table.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates last month outlined plans to cut Pentagon overhead and middle management positions in a speech at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas (Defense Daily, May 11).

“The secretary very much wants to get started early and establish momentum for this,” Lynn said. “So I think you will see decisions over the course of the summer and the fall, at least to start down the path of overhead reductions and efficiency savings.”