WASHINGTON — US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday renewed threats of a presidential veto if Congress funds a second engine for the F-35 fighter jet or additional cargo aircraft.
The House Armed Services Committee defied the Pentagon this week, adding extra money in the 2011 defense budget for an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).
Some Republican lawmakers have also called for adding funds for more C-17 planes, ignoring recommendations from Gates and Air Force commanders.
The defense secretary said he would urge President Barack Obama to veto a bill that provides for a "costly and unnecessary" second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, that imposes overly strict conditions on the program or funds additional C-17 transport planes.
"I will strongly recommend that the president veto such legislation," said Gates, saying he had issued similar warnings "repeatedly."
"Let me be clear. I believe the defense budget process should no longer be characterized by business as usual within this building or outside of it," he told a news conference.
The Pentagon has been at odds with Congress for four years over the alternative engine, which is manufactured by General Electric and Rolls-Royce, with lawmakers arguing it would allow for more competition and save money in the long term.
The Pentagon wants to stick with an engine made by Pratt and Whitney of United Technologies, saying a second engine is impractical and could further delay an already troubled program.
In February, Gates sacked the general in charge of the F-35 program and said he would withhold funds from the lead contractor, Lockheed Martin, over a series of cost overruns and delays.
Gates has held up the Joint Strike Fighter as the future of US warplanes, after having pushed through an end to the costly F-22 Raptor, despite opposition from some lawmakers.
His warning to Congress on Thursday came days after he unveiled an effort to "reform" the Pentagon by slashing overhead and bureaucratic costs to free up money for more urgent needs.
Gates wants to cut about two percent of overhead costs in the 2012 budget, or up to 15 billion dollars a year, but said he still favors modest growth in overall defense spending.
Previous defense secretaries have tried but often failed to change the way the Pentagon operates.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the same press conference that military leaders supported Gates' plans.
He said Gates had already shown he was able to cut weapons programs that many thought were politically untouchable.
"I also just wouldn't underestimate his ability to do this," Mullen said.
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