By Marina Malenic

Emphasizing the need to cut wasteful spending, President Barack Obama yesterday sent a $663.8 billion Pentagon budget to Congress for fiscal year 2010.

“We’re going to save money by eliminating unnecessary defense programs that do nothing to keep us safe, but rather prevent us from spending money on what does keep us safe,” Obama said.

The request includes $533.8 billion to fund base defense programs and $130 billion to support overseas contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The base budget number represents a four percent increase over the FY’09 request for the department.

Obama cited the General Electric [GE]-Rolls-Royce F136 propulsion system meant to serve as an alternative to the Pratt & Whitney [UTX] F135 engine for the future F-35 Lightening II Joint Strike Fighter as a prime example of the kind of excess fat he seeks to trim.

“The Defense Department is already pleased with the engine it has,” the president said. Notably, the Bush administration did not support the alternative engine program either.

“The engine it has works. The Pentagon does not want and does not plan to use the alternative version,” he added. “That’s why the Pentagon stopped requesting this funding two years ago. Yet it’s still being funded.”

Congress has in the past insisted on moving ahead with an alternative engine development effort, but the Pentagon has once again omitted the engine from its budget request.

The FY ’10 budget proposes a 5.6 percent increase from 2009 in procurement spending to $107.4 billion. However, it is being viewed as a high water mark for this era of Pentagon weapons buying.

“The spigot of defense spending, which opened wide after 9/11, is starting to close,” Comptroller Robert Hale said yesterday when presenting the budget request at the Pentagon.

The FY ’10 spending proposal will also end the planned use of supplemental requests to fund overseas operations, according to defense officials.

“The inclusion of these expenses as a separate category in the department’s annual budget request will ensure greater transparency and accountability to Congress and the American people,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is traveling overseas, said in a written statement.

The request includes $53.6 billion for aircraft procurement and modifications, including nearly $10.5 billion for the F-35 Lightening II Joint Strike Fighter program and nearly $440 billion to restart the KC-X aerial refueling tanker effort.

In the coming weeks, the military services and top regional commanders will present Congress with a list of items that did not make it into the president’s budget request. Last week, Gates instructed uniformed military leaders to present to him their lists before sending them to Capitol Hill.

“As you are aware, the existing statutory framework provides for members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to make recommendations to the Congress ‘after first informing the Secretary of Defense,'” Gates writes in an April 30 memorandum to the service chiefs and combatant commanders.

“I expect you to first inform me of such a determination so we can schedule the opportunity for you to brief me on the details,” he adds.

Gates last month unveiled his proposals for major program cuts and terminations. He and other Pentagon officials have said such changes reflect an effort to “rebalance” U.S. military capabilities toward irregular warfare, while still maintaining a robust arsenal of weapons geared toward conventional conflict.

Major cancellations rolled out by Gates last month and reflected in the president’s budget include:

  • Ending production of the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-22 Raptor fighter jet program at 187 airplanes;
  • Terminating the Lockheed Martin V-71 Presidential Helicopter program and developing options for an FY ’11 follow-on program;
  • Terminating the Air Force’s troubled Combat Search-and-Rescue helicopter replacement program;
  • Terminating the $26 million Air Force’s Transformational Satellite (TSAT) communications system in favor of the purchase two more Lockheed Martin Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites;
  • Significantly restructuring the Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) modernization effort by terminating the vehicle portion of the program;
  • Delaying the Navy CG-X next generation cruiser program;
  • Shifting the Navy Aircraft Carrier program to a five-year build cycle, which would result in 10 carriers after 2040;
  • Completing production of theBoeing [BA] C-17 airlifter program this fiscal year with the 205 planes currently in the fleet;
  • Reducing the Missile Defense Agency’s budget by $1.4 billion; and
  • Terminating the Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV) program.