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Discussion of Sequestration Effects Heats Up

As part of the Budget Control Act last year that emerged after a failed consensus between President Obama and Congress to deal with the U.S. government’s budget issues a plan was put in place for automatic cuts to spending. This sequestration of funds requires about $1 Trillion in cuts over the next 10 years. In FY13 this would amount to just under $100 billion with half coming out of the defense budget.

The way the Pentagon is approaching this is to apply the cuts evenly across all appropriations and spending which amounts to a 9.4% reduction in spending. This may be adjusted as they get closer to the actual implementation to fully fund some critical items such as personnel and medical costs which would mean some investment programs may see bigger cuts.

For some programs a 9.4% reduction would not be that significant. You buy less of an item, you maybe drive, fly or sail it less, you don’t have as much training supplies as in the past. For others it might be much worse. A 10% cut in R&D for a program could cause multi-year delays in completing development or testing meaning the system wouldn’t get into service as soon. It may be that a program would be cancelled as it wouldn’t be executable without that level of funding.

There are concerns with some of the big acquisition programs that utilize multi-year production contracts. These rely on a 5 year deal with the OEM providing for a specific number of items to be delivered each year. If the 9.4% cut happens and this number is reduced below the minimum the contract may have to be renegotiated leading to cost increases. The KC-46A tanker contract also faces some issues as it is a Firm Fixed Price (FFP) contract and the cut may reduce its funding below what was negotiated with Boeing (BA) when the contract was awarded which also could lead to a need to renegotiate.

As expected pretty much every one is against sequestration and have lately spoken up about dealing with it. Primarily by transferring the spending reductions from the Pentagon to other parts of the Federal government. This includes legislators, Pentagon officials, industry, local governments and employees. All would expect to see some hardship as the spending cuts are implemented.

The media is full of articles such as this, Sequestration threatens Portsmouth Naval Shipyard jobs, workload, from Seacoastonline.com.

Congressman Connelly (D-VA), who has a lot of defense contractors and civil servants in his district, wants Congress to stop campaigning and stay in DC to work out a resolution.

Studies are being done to calculate how many jobs will be lost due to the budget cuts and what industries will be affected the most.

There is also discussion of the effect beyond defense as the rest of the government would lose $50 billion in funding which would cause programs to be cut, eliminated and people laid off.

Overall the issue will continue to be there through the November elections. Most likely no attempt will be made to deal with this until after that when the lame duck Congress will have to also deal with the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and other budget issues. There probably will be a big omnibus bill that addresses all of this.

Will sequestration actually happen for defense? It is hard to say right now. Everyone should be planning for it and calculating how to implement it. This includes the Services, acquisition program managers, and contractors. The U.s. should be expecting reduced defense spending as the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq winds down and wartime requirements are eliminated. It would be better if it was done in a more planned fashion.

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Joint Air to Ground Missile (JAGM) to Remain in Development

With the expected reductions in U.S. planned defense spending there have been different discussions and rumors of programs being cancelled or ended. One of these is the new Joint Air to Ground Missile (JAGM) which is a replacement for the Hellfire and Maverick missiles. These are launched from a variety of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft and had an original mission of destroying enemy armor. Over the last several years different warheads have been developed to attack personnel and buildings.

The JAGM itself was a new program that replaced the earlier Joint Common Missile (JCM) which was cancelled itself a few years ago. The JCM was being developed by Lockheed Martin (LMT). They and a team of Raytheon (RTN) and Boeing (BA) were competing for the JAGM contract.

The Army had demonstrations of the two competing design and last summer received bids for the next phase of the program which was to be Engineering, Manufacturing and Development (EMD). One of the two designs would have been selected to enter this phase and then move on into production. Those proposals were received in June.

The production contract would be worth several billion dollars due to the amount of missiles that needed to be procured.

Now it is being reported that rather then moving out with this phase or cancelling the program the Army will continue to pay for a small amount of continued development and risk reduction. Available R&D funds would be used for this program. This would allow further refinement of the concept and designs and allow a decision to enter the EMD phase at a later date.

Those contracts would be awarded at the end of this summer.

The U.S. is going to be facing a number of situations like this. If there need to be severe cuts to investment programs it makes sense to cancel whole ones before they enter production. This saves the most money. It also means that the technology developed is still available for use if needed. It also continues to support some of the industrial base that might go away if whole sale cuts were made.

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Air Force Continues Commitment to KC-46A

At a recent conference the Air Force Secretary, Mr. Michael Donley, discussed the key programs for the Air Force’s future. Facing a declining budget situation the Air Force as all of the services may be forced to choose which investments have a higher priorities then others. Not surprisingly the keys for the Air Force will be the F-35, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), space and the KC-46A tanker.

The KC-46A currently being developed by Boeing (BA) will go into service later this decade to replace the aging KC-135 fleet. In terms of total cost it is one of the largest current defense programs. If the Air Force follows through with the first 170 odd aircraft the cost will be about $35 billion. There are plans to buy another 300 or more.

If there are as significant reductions to the defense budget as being discussed then the KC-46A like so many other programs may see quantities cut. This could be either the total procured or the annual buys. It could also see it being maintained at the expense of other investment programs such as new UAV or space programs.

Tankers are a key force multiplier for the United States. Declining amounts of strike assets increase the reliance on the tanker fleet. The need for the KC-46A is well established and it is a program now that the commitment to Boeing has been made that the U.S. really cannot afford to reduce. Whether this holds true remains to be seen.

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