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Edited by Christian Lowe | Contact

BUDGET COUNTEROFFENSIVE IN FULL SWING

The pushback against the Pentagon's suggested $30 billion in budget cuts has become a muscular shove.

"Two dozen senators yesterday criticized a Pentagon proposal that would eliminate Lockheed Martin Corp.'s C-130J Hercules aircraft," the Washington Post reports -- without mentioning that more than a few observers think that what the plane's main cargo is pork.

raptor_shadow.jpgMeanwhile, the Times has a killer story on the Air Force's attempt to keep all of its F/A-22 stealth fighters.

Yesterday, Air Force chief of staff Gen. John Jumper "piloted one over the Florida skies - reaching speeds of Mach 1.7 - before returning to tell waiting reporters that the jet is 'all that any of us had hoped it would be and more.'"

But the Air Force rescue operation -- successful in saving the Raptor from being scaled back during 2002 -- may not work this time.

Mr. Rumsfeld's decision to provide funds for only 180 F/A-22 Raptors, down from a previously planned 277, suggests that the Air Force has become more vulnerable in Washington's endless bureaucratic wars. That is partly a result of a growing political scandal over Air Force procurement practices that contributed to the resignation of Air Force Secretary James Roche, a staunch F/A-22 supporter.

Two years ago, when Mr. Rumsfeld, never a fan of the F/A-22, first attempted to cut it back, Mr. Roche threatened to resign and Mr. Rumsfeld folded. Today, all Mr. Roche can do is raise an objection on his way out the door.

"With these cuts, Rumsfeld has returned to a goal he first tried in the summer of 2002," said Loren B. Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, a research group in Arlington, Va., that advocates limited government.

"Rumsfeld didn't succeed because of Roche's threats," Mr. Thompson explained. "Now the Air Force is defenseless. Its political leadership is leaving and its uniformed leadership has been discredited by scandal."

Still, the political forces behind the F/A-22 will not go down without a fight. With the work on the project spread over 43 states and two of its biggest contractors, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, among the most powerful lobbying juggernauts in Washington, backers of the F/A-22 will try to persuade Congress to do what Mr. Rumsfeld will not.

For more on the Raptor's future, check out this debate going on now in the Defense Tech forum.

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