WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Robert Gates is announcing the latest round of cost-cutting measures for the military, including a plan to do away with a new amphibious vehicle that can ferry troops to shore while under fire.
The plan is aimed at staving off potentially deeper cuts by the White House or Congress by showing that the Pentagon is taking seriously a call to rein in the nation's deficit.
The Defense Department is responsible for the biggest piece of discretionary spending in the federal government's annual budget.
It's been largely protected until now. Newly elected tea party activists, including Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., have said that cuts to military spending must be considered if the federal government is to reduce its deficit.
"Gates has done a good job so far in protecting the budget," said Loren Thompson, head of the Virginia-based Lexington Institute and adviser to several major defense contractors.
"But the deficit is so huge and the other claims on the budget so big that he is starting to lose ground," Thompson said.
Gates was expected to announce on Thursday that he would cancel a $13 billion plan to buy the Marines amphibious assault vehicles from General Dynamics Corp. called the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.
While a top priority for the Marine Corps, the EFV has long been considered a target of Gates as he looked to trim the budget. Gates has questioned whether D-Day-style landings are going to be common in future wars when the enemy is developing sophisticated weapons that can easily attack ships hovering close to shore.
Other cost-cutting measures were planned as well, including the delay of the Marine version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, according to defense analysts familiar with the plan.
The steps are part of a broader effort by Gates to find some $100 billion in budget fat through 2016 that he says should be reinvested into programs for the troops and to modernize weapon systems.
According to Thompson, the Pentagon had been told to whittle its budget plan in coming years by as much as $150 billion. Thompson says that Gates was able to argue that only about $80 billion was practical.
Still, the Defense Department is being directed to create a spending plan for 2012 that doesn't exceed $554 billion, instead of the $566 billion it initially wanted. The figure does not include war spending.
Last year, Gates pledged to trim the department's bureaucracy by disbanding an entire military headquarters in Norfolk, Va., called U.S. Joint Forces Command, and cutting back on the number of general officers that staff the Pentagon.
Gates also announced that affordability would be given greater consideration when buying goods and services and that contracts exceeding $1 billion would be particularly scrutinized.
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