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House panel mostly backs service plans for fighters, helos, UAVs, vehicles

Apr. 30, 2014 - 02:04PM   |  
A US House subcommittee supported service requests for numerous programs, including a Marine Corps buy of 19 MV-22 Osprey tiltrotors.
A US House subcommittee supported service requests for numerous programs, including a Marine Corps buy of 19 MV-22 Osprey tiltrotors. (US Marine Corp)
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WASHINGTON — One word dominated a summary of legislation released Wednesday by the House panel that oversees Army, Marine Corps and Air Force weapon programs: “Support.”

The House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee largely backed the services’ plans for everything from new fighter jets to tiltrotor aircraft to helicopters to surveillance drone planes to combat vehicles.

The panel backed the Pentagon’s plans to buy 34 Lockheed Martin-made F-35 fighter jets in 2015, a strong start to the congressional defense budget cycle for a company and Defense Department with much to lose if lawmakers begin chipping away at buy rates of the fifth-generation jet. The F-35 program continues to battle developmental issues that have caused substantial delays and budget overruns.

The legislation, however, does indicate HASC members continue to have questions about the program’s many issues. It would require the US comptroller general to submit an annual report to Congress, beginning next April, until the program hits full-rate production.

That proposed annual study would have to cover “the extent to which the F-35 aircraft acquisition program is meeting cost, schedule and performance goals; the progress and results of developmental and operational testing; the progress of the procurement and manufacturing of the F-35 aircraft; and an assessment of any plans or efforts of the secretary of defense to improve the efficiency of the procurement and manufacturing of the F-35 aircraft,” according to the legislation.

Notably, the subcommittee’s legislation contains no mention of an Air Force plan to retire its A-10 attack plane fleet in 2019 to save money. Several House members have banded together with hawkish senators to fight the service’s plan, meaning amendments aiming to block the retirement are possible during the full panel’s markup next week of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The subcommittee also supports the Army’s plan to buy 197 new helicopters and the Marine Corps’ proposal to purchase 19 MV-22 Osprey tiltrotors, made by Bell Helicopter and Boeing.

The proposed legislation, which the subcommittee is expected to send to the full committee on Thursday morning, also gives its “support” to “26 new H-1 series helicopters, and continued development of the CH-53K heavy lift helicopter.” That is good news for Bell and Sikorsky, though three defense panels must first also endorse those plans.

The panel appears to support an Air Force plan to keep its Global Hawk surveillance drone aircraft and retire the venerable U-2 spy plane fleet. The summary reads: “Support the president’s request for the Global Hawk unmanned aerial system, and other high altitude intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms.” Good news for Northrop Grumman, maker of the Global Hawk.

The panel is proposing some funding restrictions for major weapon programs. One is the Army’s Armored Multipurpose Vehicle (AMPV) program. The legislation would cap 2015 funding for the initiative at 80 percent of the final appropriation until Army brass deliver lawmakers a report on its “plan to eventually replace all M-113 Armored [Personnel] Carriers (APC) within Echelons-Above-Brigade (EAB) formations.”

“The committee continues to support the AMPV program and expects the Army to conduct the competition in accordance with Federal Acquisition Regulations,” states the legislation. “However, the committee is concerned that although the Army’s current plan addresses a critical shortfall within EBB formations, there is currently no plan to address the survivability shortfalls within Echelons-Above-Brigade formations.”

The subcommittee also would require the Army to examine whether mine-resistant armor-protected (MRAP) vehicles purchased for Iraq and Afghanistan could serve a different role in the fleet.

“The committee believes there may be some operational value in using MRAP vehicles as mobile command posts at echelons above brigade,” the bill states. “Therefore, the committee directs the chief of staff of the Army to provide a briefing to the congressional defense committees not later than February 13, 2015, on the advisability and feasibility of using MRAP vehicles as part of current mobile command post modernization strategies.”

An initial review of the subcommittee’s bill indicates its leaders opted to leave some controversial matters, such as Army and Marine Corps end-strength cuts and the idea of an independent commission to study the Army’s future rotorcraft plans, for the full Armed Services Committee to debate.

That will happen May 7, when the full panel begins work on the version of the 2015 NDAA that will go to the House floor later this year.

Paul Mcleary contributed to this report.

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