CAPITOL HILL: The House Armed Services Committee wants to add up to six F-35B STOVL jets to the Marine Corps budget, even as it demands new oversight into Lockheed Martin’s long-troubled F-35 program. The House draft National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2016 would not add any F-35Cs, the Navy variant. Instead, it will include up to a dozen additional Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, the current carrier-based fighter. The Navy had requested both the F-18s and eight additional F-35Cs in its unfunded requirements list, but the committee decided to only plus up the older, proven plane. Meanwhile, on the ground, HASC would add an unspecified sum to upgun the Army’s eight-wheel-drive Stryker armored vehicles, built by General Dynamics, against the Russian threat.
In a press briefing this morning on the Tactical Air & Land Forces subcommittee’s portion of the bill, committee staff declined to give specific figures. The staffers said that exact dollar figures remain in flux across subcommittee jurisdictions, so it was premature to say exactly how many fighter aircraft would be added. What they would say was that subcommittee members were striving to meet the targets in the Navy and Marine Corps’ Unfunded Requirements List: six F-35Bs and 12 F-18s.
Adding the F-35Bs says more about the members’ love for the Marine Corps than it does about the F-35 program. The subcommittee language demands a Government Accountability Office study of the troubled maintenance software known as ALIS (Autonomic Logistics Information System) and a study by a federally funded research and development center of the F135 jet engine.
The subcommittee also asked the Army to report on its complex command-and-control networks, its long-term options for a new scout helicopter, and its plan to upgrade National Guard UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters, which the legislators want to accelerate. At the same time, the mark-up makes modest (but, again, unspecified) additions to Army procurement programs such as the Hercules recovery vehicle — essentially a tracked tow-truck for tanks — and Javelin anti-tank missiles — which the Ukrainians are currently begging for to counter to Russian armored vehicles.
The most tantalizing item was the provision to upgun some Stryker vehicles, which are currently the Army’s heaviest weapons in Europe in the absence of a full-up armored brigade. This item is apparently a “late-breaking” response to a still-evolving requirement for more firepower.
“It is related to an emerging…operational need statement [ONS] to potentially upgrade some current Stryker vehicles with more effective weapons,” one Hill staffer told me. “[It’s] still in staffing in the Pentagon, [and] it is not clear what exactly the Army has in mind yet.”
Language about the A-10’s retirement won’t be available until the full committee markup next Wednesday, staff said.