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Battle of Porkbarrel Hill begins

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Analysis The US Defence Secretary has signalled a serious attempt on his part and that of President Obama to reform the world's largest military machine. If the two men get their way - and that's a big if - the Pentagon will become much less a capital-intensive tech porkbarrel and much more an organisation of properly-backed combat troops.

Secretary Gates' speech yesterday - full transcript available here - sets out the plans. The axe falls on a long list of expensive hi-tech projects, many of which will be familiar to Reg readers. Among the victims are the US Army's networked ground force vehicles, which originally started out as something not far off a robot tank legion; the partly-British presidential helicopters; the orbital multikill ICBM-busters; and the fantastically expensive Raptor ultrasuperfighter, whose numbers remain capped at 187.

That said, it's far from a clean sweep in the military crazytech sector. Fans of the nuke-nobbling raygun jumbo jet, the Airborne Laser (ABL) will be relieved to note that the current prototype will continue into flight tests - but there won't be any money for more laser 747s unless those tests go unexpectedly well.

Nor is the news all bad at the controversial Missile Defence Agency. While plans for more land-based midcourse interceptors in Alaska are shelved, there's cash for more SM-3 naval interceptors - of the sort which nailed a malfunctioning US spy sat over the Pacific last summer - and ships to fire them from.

The US battle fleet, as Mr Gates notes, has a "healthy margin of dominance at sea". As a result, all big blue-water ship programmes are pushed back and plans for a future electrically-driven destroyer are replaced by increasing the production run of existing Arleigh Burke jobs. However, the new Littoral Combat Ship, handy for inshore work of the sort common in modern warfare, gets the nod.

Across the board, there are cuts in expensive, very-high-tech things which would only be useful for fighting unlikely wars against first-rate opposition, and preservation or increases for more basic stuff which is handy for day-to-day business. The only exception to this rule is that the C-17 heavy airlifter is to cease production this year, perhaps a curious move given that airlift is always overworked in modern military operations.

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