WASHINGTON — As Congress heads toward the start of fiscal 2020, potentially under a continuing resolution, the Pentagon has identified three key modernization programs that will suffer under the restrictions of such an approach.

At a press briefing Thursday, Jonathan Hoffman, the department’s top spokesman, said Defense Secretary Mark Esper met with congressional leaders this week to urge them to avoid a CR. However, that path appears unlikely, with the House passing legislation to keep the government open under a CR through Nov. 21.

Under a CR, budgets will be locked at FY19 levels. More importantly for a department which made modernization a key focus of its FY20 request, no new programs can be launched under the budget mechanism.

“The hope is that if it’s kept within, you know, a few weeks to a little bit more than that, that it’s something we can manage and work through, but once we start getting into months and quarters, the impact grows exponentially, and [it] becomes more difficult to recover from those impacts,” Hoffman said.

On Friday, the department stated that a one to three month CR would “disrupt major exercises and training events, affect readiness and maintenance, curtail hiring and recruitment actions, and adversely impact contracting negotiations.” But more specifically, it called out three modernization priorities that would be hurt:

  • Long-range hypersonic weapon: Hypersonic systems have been identified by Pentagon officials as a top priority for investment, with the various services looking at options. A CR “delays critical long lead purchases, putting planned delivery at risk; adversely impacting the ability to deter and defeat near-peer adversaries,” according to the department.
  • Advanced helicopter training system: A contract to buy 32 training helicopters (24 for the Navy and eight for the Marine Corps) is scheduled to be awarded in November; that contract award, and hence getting the program underway, would face delays.
  • B-52 GPS interface unit replacement: The venerable B-52 bomber needs a number of upgrades, with this particular system serving as the kind of under-the-radar impact that a CR would cause over the long term. A short-term CR, the Pentagon said, would delay procurement of “critical processing chips/circuit cards” and cause an 18-month slip in the program, which could impact mission-capable rates for the B-52.

Should the CR extend beyond Nov. 21, expect concerns from the Pentagon to expand.

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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