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By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Ashton Carter, President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the Pentagon, on Wednesday underscored his determination to boost the U.S. defense budget, drive down the cost of new weapons and make sure new technologies are delivered to troops more quickly.
Carter, who served as the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer and the No. 2 official before leaving for a stint in the private sector, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that there was no “silver bullet” to fix the way the Pentagon buys weapons.
But he said he had canceled programs in the past and would keep close watch on current efforts. This includes a new aircraft carrier being built by Huntington Ingalls Industries , growth of which he said had not been dealt with satisfactorily.
Carter, who restructured Lockheed Martin Corp’s $400 billion F-35 fighter jet program while he was the chief arms buyer, said he also remained concerned about the longer-term cost to operate and maintain the new stealthy warplanes.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Carter told the committee. “The taxpayer cannot comprehend it, let alone support the defense budget when they read ... of cost overruns, lack of accounting and accountability, needless overhead, and the like. This must stop.”
Carter said the department also needed to develop and field weapons far more quickly than it does now or risk being overtaken by competitors and potential foes.
The hearing was closely watched by Lockheed and other arms makers, which have been waiting for clues about Carter’s priorities and his commitment to new procurement programs.
Carter threw his support behind the Air Force program to build 80 to 100 new long-range strike bombers at a cost of $550 million each. A contract award is expected this spring.
Northrop Grumman, maker of the B-2 bomber, is competing with a team made up of Boeing and Lockheed for the new contract, which could be worth well over $50 billion.
He said he supported the U.S. Navy’s efforts to buy more ships and submarines and expand the size of its fleet. And he backed continued spending on U.S. missile defense systems, given threats from North Korea and Iran.
Carter also urged lawmakers to reverse congressional budget caps on military spending known as sequestration, warning that the cuts were endangering the U.S. military’s ability to execute the president’s national security strategy. (Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and Lisa Lambert; Editing by James Dalgleish and Cynthia Osterman)