Nov 18 2006

Lawmakers push to keep missile alive

Huntsville Times

By Shelby Spires

Alabama lawmakers sent a letter to the Pentagon this week urging the military to free millions of dollars allocated to a Redstone Arsenal missile program that could bring up to 200 jobs to Huntsville.

Congress approved about $60 million for 2006 and 2007 to pay for the initial development of the Joint Common Missile. The program is being developed for the Army and Navy by the Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space on Redstone along with prime contractor Lockheed Martin.

But most of the money has not been released by the Pentagon for the missile's development, said U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa.

"We have sent a letter expressing concern to Gordon England," Shelby said, "and hopefully that will clear this matter." England is deputy defense secretary.

The letter was signed by Shelby; Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile; Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Huntsville; and Rep. Terry Everett, R-Rehobeth.

Cramer said the letter was the latest effort to keep the program alive.

"We have actively promoted the Joint Common Missile since its inception because of the benefits to our (soldiers) and to North Alabama," Cramer said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon released about $25 million from the 2006 Army budget for the program. But about $4 million from the 2006 Navy budget and another $30 million from the 2007 budget remains in limbo, according to reports.

Dan O'Boyle, a Redstone spokesman, said 48 civil servants are working on the program and confirmed the majority of the money had been released this week by the Defense Department.

The missile program has been in an on-again, off-again status since late 2004, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office slashed the multiservice missile from the budget as part of a plan to cut more than $30 billion from Pentagon budgets over several years.

The $5.5 billion Joint Common Missile contract was canceled in late 2005 when development money ran out. If developed fully, the missile would be used by the Army and Navy and would replace older tactical missile programs.

"We've been working on the Joint Common Missile for a number of years now, and it has a lot of promise. This delegation has worked hard to keep it alive," Shelby said.

The letter, dated Tuesday, urged Pentagon leaders to allocate the money and to give up a plan to reopen the program, allowing other contractors to bid for its development.

Shelby said soliciting more bids would delay the program.

Lockheed Martin maintains that when the funds were slashed, the program had been on schedule and on budget since the contract was awarded in May 2004. After the Pentagon canceled the contract, the defense company and the Army kept it alive with low-level research over the past year.

"Lockheed Martin won the competition for the Joint Common Missile program and, under our leadership, the missile remains on budget, on schedule and supports the needs" of soldiers, said Jennifer Allen, a Lockheed Martin spokeswoman. "Lockheed Martin remains committed to delivering this highly capable joint capability to (soldiers) as quickly as possible, without any further delay."