Anyone waiting for a brand-new Apache to arrive will have to keep waiting. Plans are for the Army to buy re-manufactured ones instead. (U.S. Army)
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Despite talk of the huge impact that sequestration will have on the bottom lines of the U.S. military, the numbers submitted by the Army for fiscal 2014 largely hold the line on the service’s long-held top priorities — the network, and new tracked and wheeled combat vehicles — while nibbling around the edges of its rotary-wing fleet.
Overall, the budget submitted by the Army on April 10 was largely flat compared with the previous year’s enacted budget, befitting the mood of Pentagon budget planners who say they don’t know what to expect once Congress begins to debate funding the nation’s military, and the hard choices it might make if sequestration remains.
The base budget request is $129.7 billion, a 3.6 percent increase from the enacted 2013 budget with the sequester. The 2014 request is 1.7 percent lower, however, if you remove sequester cuts from the 2013 enacted level.
The base budget request restores the Army to 2008-level funding. The operations and maintenance accounts six years ago were almost doubled by the $121 billion in additional war funding to support the fights in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The days of large supplemental budgets are long gone, and with them, the vehicle and rotary-wing modernization programs those accounts funded. DoD leadership said it is still working on the overseas contingency operations request for fiscal 2014, but Comptroller Bob Hale told reporters April 10 that “it’ll be lower but not dramatically lower” than the $88 billion enacted in 2013.
The White House will release OCO funding amounts this month or in early May.
Briefing reporters at the Pentagon on April 10, Maj. Gen. Karen Dyson, director of the Army Budget Office, said the service will take the biggest hit from any reduction in the OCO account this year, and that her office projects a shortfall of about $7.5 billion in OCO funds for operations in Afghanistan.
“We’re hopeful that we will be able to leverage the department’s reprogramming transfer authority so that we can realign funds to take care of some of that,” she said, “but we don’t think we’ll be able to take care of the full $7.5 billion because the entire department only has $7.5 billion in transfer authority. And the other services, of course, have some challenges that they’re looking to solve.”
When it comes to line items in the base budget, however, the Army is consolidating around existing programs, while requesting just enough cash to keep its three primary developmental programs moving along the road to a production decision.
The biggest dip in the request comes under the aircraft account, which stands to lose about $800 million, falling from $5.8 billion enacted this year without accounting for the sequester ($6.3 billion with OCO). Under the aircraft account, the Army’s two big-ticket items are a $1 billion request to buy six new Boeing CH-47F Chinook helicopters and remanufacture 22 others; and $1.2 billion to purchase 65 new Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
The service also wants to upgrade 42 Boeing Block III AH-64 Apache helicopters for $813 million, and purchase 15 General Atomics MQ-1 Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft to equip two companies for $518 million. New builds of the newest version of the Apache, the AH-64E, were zeroed out in the budget request; the Army now says it will buy only remanufactured Apaches.
Although the Army has taken delivery of 33 AH-64E Apaches, “there is still a requirement for 56 new builds for a total 690” aircraft, said service spokeswoman Sophia Bledsoe. The remaining 634 aircraft will be remanufactured AH-64D airframes. “The Army is in the process of contracting for new build aircraft for FY2013,” Bledsoe continued, adding that “the remainder of the new build aircraft were moved outside” the current five-year budget planning window.
Ups and downs for vehicles
The service’s main priorities — fielding its battlefield communication network, developing ground combat vehicles along with joint light tactical vehicles and armored mobile protected vehicles — all appear safe in this budget request.
Overall, the service wants to spend $1.8 billion to field the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical and buy its component hardware, a number that will likely rise as the gear makes its way to Afghanistan and begins drawing on OCO funds.
To finish buying equipment and fielding a suite of communications gear to be deployed with two brigades of the 10th Mountain Division this year, the Army said it needs $973 million for four brigade sets and two division sets of the equipment in fiscal 2014, along with $383 million worth of joint tactical radio systems, and $267 million for 2,717 of the troubled distributed common ground systems.
The tracked combat vehicle account would receive $1.58 billion. The request covers the cost of transforming more flat-bottomed Strykers into the more durable double V-hull variant for $374 million — which would give the Army three brigades of the improved infantry carrier. The service also wants to continue with its low-rate initial production buy of 18 Paladin mobile howitzer platforms.
The one budget line that Congress is most certainly going to take a crack at — the Abrams tank — comes in at $178 million to keep the line at Lima, Ohio, humming at what the service describes as “a sustainable level.”
The cash for the Abrams program will complete the fielding of the M1A2 variant to the Army National Guard, Davis Welch, Army Budget Office deputy director, said April 10. He stressed that the money is not to buy new tanks, but instead to modernize existing hulls and buy “some additional armor protection to keep the special armor facility open.”
Abrams maker General Dynamics declined to comment on the Army’s budget decision.
The ongoing Bradley modernization program comes in at $158 million. The Army also wants to buy 32 M88A2 Hercules recovery vehicles for $111 million, but like the Abrams production line at Lima, the budget does nothing to assuage BAE Systems concerns over the Bradley line at York, Pa., going cold at the end of 2014.
BAE spokeswoman Stephanie Serkhoshian said that while the company is pleased that the administration included funding for the M88A2, BAE Systems is “extremely concerned that the President’s Budget Request calls for the shutdown of the industrial base that supports the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and other Army combat vehicles for at least three years starting in 2014. This will result in serious consequences for the Army and National Guard as well as the combat vehicle industrial base.”
Now the budget goes to Capitol Hill for the real work to begin.