Top Pentagon Weapon Buyers Say Budget Gridlock Threatens Hundreds of Projects

C-130J Hercules and WC-130J Hercules fly in formation during an Operation Surge Capacity exercise April, 5, 2014, over the Mississippi Gulf Coast region.

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Nicholas Monteleone/Released

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C-130J Hercules and WC-130J Hercules fly in formation during an Operation Surge Capacity exercise April, 5, 2014, over the Mississippi Gulf Coast region.

Pentagon officials say hundreds of acquisitions projects would be halted or cut in half this fiscal year if Congress doesn’t pass a proper budget.

The Pentagon’s top weapons buyers said Congress will wreak havoc on hundreds of key defense acquisition projects if lawmakers extend into next year the temporary funding measures keeping the government open.

The top arms buyers from the Army, Navy and Air Force said Tuesday they cannot start new projects or end old ones if the budget deal Congress passed last week that will keep the government open until December remains in place for the entire year. They also could not speed up or slow down production of any weapon systems. Currently, the continuing resolution sets Pentagon spending on cruise control at the same level as 2015, even though the new fiscal year began last week.

If extended through the rest of the fiscal year, Pentagon officials would have to cancel a $5.8 billion deal for C-130 cargo planes that they’ve been negotiating with Lockheed Martin. The 79-plane contract, which includes aircraft for the Air Force and Marine Corps, has been in the works since 2014.

“If we go to a year-long [continuing resolution], without any ways to change it, we’ll break that multiyear,” William LaPlante, the Air Force’s acquisition chief said at a Defense One LIVE-hosted event on the state of acquisition reforms. Aside from the C-130 contract, there are 50 other Air Force projects impacted by the continuing resolution, he said.

Even if there is no budget deal, the Air Force plans to chose a contractor—either Northrop Grumman or a Boeing-Lockheed team—to build its new stealth bomber, LaPlante said.

In the Army, 400 programs would be impacted by a continuing resolution, said Assistant Secretary of the Army Heidi Shyu, the service’s acquisition chief. “Just about everyone of our major programs are going to be impacted,” she said.

The Army would have to cut in half its planned buy of 64 Apache helicopters, Shyu said.

Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, said in event of a year-long continuing resolution the Defense Department would look to protect readiness and operations, so acquisition programs would get hit harder than other budget accounts.

“It’ll have a devastating impact,” he said. “What frightens all of us about it is it that the political default is to do a [continuing resolution] and not to get a deal.”

Kendall has compiled a list of “commitments” the Defense Department plans to make in 2016. The list, which he sent to Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, makes recommendations of which projects to defer if there is no budget deal.

Kendall would not discuss the list in more detail.

“Some of the things we’re planning are going to have to be deferred. If we make commitments and then end up with less money than we anticipate, we don’t to be in a position of having to terminate things,” he said. “We’re looking at how to manage our way through this until it’s resolved.”

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