WASHINGTON Jan 30 The head of the U.S.
Senate's Armed Services Committee said on Friday spending on
the long-range U.S. antiballistic missile system should be
scaled down as part of a belt-tightening on arms purchases.
"I would say we've got to slow that down and properly test
it," Sen. Carl Levin told reporters, referring to a
ground-based shield managed by Boeing Co (BA.N) that includes
interceptor missiles in silos in Alaska and California.
The system is designed to thwart missiles, potentially
tipped with chemical, biological or nuclear warheads, that
could be fired by countries such as North Korea and Iran.
Outlining his committee's priorities for 2009, Levin said
the United States would have to cut or stretch out previously
planned arms buying because of a budget crunch arising from
efforts to shore up the rapidly declining U.S. economy.
Levin's panel is one of four congressional committees that
oversee defense spending.
Improving the way the Pentagon buys tens of billions of
dollars worth of arms each year would be a "major inititative"
for the committee early this year, the Michigan Democrat said.
Missile defense spending was the only area that he said he
would "love to" see cut.
Other programs vulnerable to cuts include shipbuilding
programs, Lockheed Martin Corp's (LMT.N) F-22 fighter and
Boeing's Future Combat Systems, an inter-operable family of air
and ground vehicles that is the core of Army modernization.
Levin said he favored spending to replace equipment worn
out in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, "even at the expense of
modernization" of the U.S. arsenal.
"We have to avoid getting even deeper in the hole than
we're going to be, which is plenty deep," Levin said.
He said he expected President Barack Obama to seek
significant changes to unspecified acquisition programs.
"I would be surprised if that doesn't happen," Levin said.
The Pentagon's core budget for fiscal 2009 is about $512
billion, including about $9 billion for ballistic missile
defense, the costliest weapons development project.
Of the $9 billion, about $3 billion is allocated to
long-range missile defense and related antimissile
Levin said he believed the administration was seriously
interested in exploring cooperation with Moscow on missile
defense, a move that would "change the entire dynamic vis-a-vis
the world and Iran."
He said he expected Obama to send Congress only a barebones
"top line" fiscal 2010 defense budget request on Monday, as
required by law, with a detailed breakout reflecting the new
administration's priorities to follow perhaps by April.
Levin stood by the nomination of former Raytheon Co (RTN.N)
lobbyist William Lynn as deputy secretary of defense, saying he
was awaiting a detailed accounting of the issues on which Lynn
had lobbied on Raytheon's behalf before scheduling a committee
"I haven't seen anything that would cause me not to support
it," he said. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the panel's top
Republican, has raised questions about how Lynn would deal with
decisions affecting Raytheon, one of the Pentagon's top
(Reporting by Jim Wolf; editing by Ted Kerr)