Murtha’s Crystal Ball

The fiscal crisis now gripping the government will be keenly felt by the US military, predicts Rep. John Murtha (D-Penn.), chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. Appearing Oct. 5 on This Week in Defense News, a CBS TV news show, Murtha said he expects defense spending to be cut as the war in Iraq winds down, since that’s happened after every other war in US history. “We’ll be under tremendous pressure” to find savings within the Defense Department, he said. The Air Force will not be immune. “I think the [F-22 fighter] is going to fall by the wayside this next year [and] I think [C-17 production] will finally stop,” Murtha said. Foreign sales won’t keep the F-22 production line going because the aircraft’s technology can’t be shared, he noted. Only the F-35 and the new aerial tanker will be built beyond next year, he predicted. Murtha favors buying new tankers both from Northrop Grumman and Boeing as a way to break the Congressional impasse regarding tanker recapitalization. Because its aircraft is “ready to go,” Northrop Grumman’s tanker would start production first, with Boeing following when its airplane is ready, under Murtha’s scheme. The Pentagon objects to the two-tanker approach, claiming excessive development and maintenance costs will result, but Murtha is skeptical. He said he was told “four or five years ago” that the Eisenhower-era KC-135s could only last a few more years, but the Pentagon is now saying the aircraft can be extended beyond that. Murtha said he’s got people studying the support costs of current tankers to see how the numbers compare against maintaining a new, two-tanker fleet.