HR 3326: FY 2010 House Defense Bill Offers Challenges
On July 30/09. the US House passed its “H.R. 3326: Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2010” by a crushing 400-30 vote. Reconciliation with the Senate’s S. 1390 bill will happen in committee, before the final joint bill can be sent to the President for signature – or veto.
The House bill contains a number of provisions that challenge official Pentagon decisions, and could lead to political fights with the Senate or even with President Obama. The key flashpoints include:
Presidential helicopters. $485 million to convert the 5 flight test aircraft already bought and paid for into operational VH-71 Increment 1 Presidential helicopters. A direct challenge to the Pentagon budget, the Senate budget, and to SecDef Gates’ statement that “Increment One helicopters do not meet requirements and are estimated to have only a five- to 10-year useful life.” Lockheed Martin disputes that lifespan estimate.
The Senate bill sticks to the Pentagon’s plan, and this is a high profile issue that has attracted veto threats. A serious House-Senate clash is very likely, and the VH-71 program has the political profile that would make Presidential veto of the 2010 budget a realistic option. Advantage: Senate & President.
F136 engine for the F-35 fighter family. Again. $560 million for the Joint Strike Fighter’s GE/Rolls Royce F136 alternate engine program, while cutting 2 F-35Bs to get 28 planes in FY 2010: 10 F-35As, 14 F-35Bs, and 4 F-35Cs. This conflicts with The Pentagon’s plans, and the Senate bill too, but the Senate bill removed the funding via an anonymous voice vote. The F136 has attracted indirect veto threats, but has strong House support – and also has support from Congress’ own GAO auditors. That last item makes a veto very politically problematic. Advantage: House.
F-22A Raptor. The House bill removed F-22A funding from its bill shortly before the final vote, and the Levin-McCain amendment had done the same in the Senate. All potential conflicts were avoided, and the program’s fate is sealed.
Other key divergences include:
C-17 strategic aerial transports. $674 million to fund 3 more C-17s, instead of halting Boeing’s production completely and shutting down the line. Another 3 planes seems almost irrelevant, but the C-17 has added some Middle Eastern export orders recently, and could get another boost if Britain decides to pull out of the A400M program and buy more C-17s.
F/A-18E/F Super Hornets The FY 2010 buy was cut to 9 fighters in the Pentagon request, in order to fund the F-35 program. Both chambers added $560 million and 9 more Super Hornets to their bills, bringing the FY 2010 total to 40 planes: 18 Super Hornets and 22 EA-18G electronic warfare aircraft.
This is in line with past years, and avoids a production line slowdown at Boeing. It also addresses expressed concerns about a naval fighter numbers gap created by the retirement of older fighters, and the uncertainty of the F-35C’s on-time arrival. The House also appears to be gearing up for another 5-year procurement contract for 150 more Super Hornet family planes, instead of reverting to year-by-year buys when the current 5-year MYP-II contract expires at the end of FY 2009.
Littoral Combat Ship. $780 million in unrequested funding to buy an additional ship in FY 2010, which would raise the total to 4. The Senate bill did not alter the Pentagon’s request for up to 3 ships. Most likely result if adopted is a 2-ship buy from each competing team, but the Navy has said that it could decide to pick either Team Lockheed or the General Dynamics/Austal team.
Stryker wheeled APCs. General Dynamics Land Systems’ 8×8 armored personnel carrier is popular with state National Guards, who want them because their wheels make them useful stateside. At present, however, Pennsylvania’s 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team is the only Army National Guard unit. The House added $225 million is unrequested funding for additional vehicles, to reach $704 million. The Senate bill did not alter the Pentagon’s request.
Kinetic Energy Interceptor. The House bill retains $80 million to find continued development, saving the program from cancellation. The Senate bill, and the Pentagon’s request, would terminate this program.
Northrop Grumman’s KEI is intended to deal with enemy ICBMs during their vulnerable boost phase and early mid-course flight, as opposed to the GMD missiles’ focus on late mid-stage flight. Other options like the land based THAAD and Patriot, and the naval SM-3, aren’t currently designed for use against ICBMs, and if upgraded would be reserved for late-midcourse and last-ditch defense. The potential inherent in KEI’s very high speed and potential naval deployment has gathered a certain amount of support, but increased cost projections and technical difficulties have left it vulnerable. The amount in question for FY 2010 means that its survival depends on how hard the House is willing to fight to keep it.