By Chris Casteel
April 1, 2009
WASHINGTON — Sen. Jim Inhofe said Tuesday he’s going to do everything in his power to spare a new U.S. Army cannon, due to be partly assembled in Elgin, from the Pentagon’s budget knife.
Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said he has already made his case to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is reviewing planned weapons systems as he prepares to submit a budget. Under scrutiny is the Army’s Future Combat Systems, a long-term modernization plan that includes manned and unmanned vehicles, planes and other elements.
The cannon is part of the overall program, and — largely because of Inhofe and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore — it is further along in development than most of the other pieces. BAE Systems is expected to employ 100 people in Elgin to work on the cannon. There are currently eight prototypes, and 12 to 18 cannons are scheduled to be produced in the next three years at a cost of about $500 million.
The Government Accountability Office, Congress’ auditing arm, released a report this month raising concerns about a lack of progress in the system. It said the cannon has been pushed so far ahead of the rest of the elements it may not be compatible with the final products.
Inhofe, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, began pushing for the new cannon after former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld killed plans in 2002 for a modern howitzer called the Crusader.
On Tuesday, Inhofe said that cancelling or scaling back the Army’s Future Combat Systems "would be a devastating blow to national security.”
He said budget cuts that were enacted in the 1990s left the U.S. military weaker and that "to reinstate our position, we’re going to have to start modernizing and rebuilding.”
Inhofe blamed President Barack Obama for forcing cuts at the Pentagon and said Gates "is going to have to make cuts in programs he believes in.”