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Romney would boost Pentagon spending, cut civilian workers: advisers

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally at the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, North Carolina October
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally at the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, North Carolina October

By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Mitt Romney would accelerate spending on new Navy warships, cut the Pentagon's civilian workforce and speed up development of new weapons systems if he wins the 2012 presidential election, two advisers said on Thursday.

Dov Zakheim, who was Pentagon comptroller under President George W. Bush, and his son, Roger Zakheim, who is on leave as deputy staff director of the House Armed Services Committee, sketched out Romney's priorities at a meeting with reporters.

They said he would fund 15 warships a year -- up from nine in the latest request from the Obama administration -- as early as 2015; focus on development of a new bomber, and continue work on the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Romney insisted during the first presidential debate with President Barack Obama that he would increase military spending, but big weapons makers like Lockheed, Boeing Co, and Northrop Grumman Corp are anxiously awaiting details.

Defense stocks could get a short-term boost if Romney wins the election, said Byron Callan, an analyst with Capital Alpha. But he said even a Republican president would have to deal with the widening federal deficit and conservatives who are more concerned about cutting deficits than expanding defense.

"I don't know if I'd start a business model that starts to think about industry growth just yet," Callan said.

ROMNEY PLEDGES 4 PCT OF GDP

Romney has vowed to halt $500 billion in defense budget cuts due to start taking effect on January 2, reductions that would come on top of $487 billion in cuts to proposed spending that are already slated to take effect over the next decade.

The White House also opposes the cuts, but says it is up to Congress to find other ways to cut the deficit.

The advisers said Romney would dedicate 4 percent of U.S. gross domestic product to the Pentagon's base budget.

They also challenged Democratic estimates that Romney planned a $2 trillion buildup in military spending. "We're not going to come with this massive supplemental," Dov Zakheim said, noting that current military spending was about 4.2 percent, including funding for the war in Afghanistan.

Dov Zakheim identified two of Romney's closest advisers on defense as former Navy Secretary John Lehman and former Missouri Senator Jim Talent, both of whom have advocated for increased military spending. But he said Romney was someone who gathered a lot of disparate opinions before making up his own mind.

"If you look at the debate, look at the speeches, this is a guy that you can't pin down," he said, noting that Romney was not closely identified with neo-conservatives who opposed modest defense cuts proposed by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

He said the former governor of Massachusetts also interacted with two of the biggest U.S. defense contractors, Raytheon Co, which is based in Waltham, and BAE Systems, which employs many Massachusetts residents at its Nashua, New Hampshire plant, Zakheim said.

Both advisers said Romney would bring his business expertise to running the Pentagon, increasing competition, accelerating development efforts that often drag on for a decade or more, and using larger orders to lower unit costs.

For instance, they said, he plans to fund three Virginia-class submarines a year instead of two, a move that would be welcomed by shipbuilders General Dynamics Corp and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc.

They said a growing economy would help fund the extra spending, and said Romney would also shift money out of "entitlement" programs in favor of defense.

At the same time, they said Romney would give companies more "predictability" by halting cuts in defense programs, cutting the Pentagon's expanding civilian workforce and what he has described as its "bloated bureaucracy," while also tackling rising military health care costs.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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