WASHINGTON: The Navy won and the Air Force lost in the markup of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Sens. John McCain and Jack Reed presided over the SASC markup of the defense policy bill, cutting $860 million from three Air Force programs — including the two of the service’s top three priorities — and moving the money to pay for things the Air Force doesn’t want: the $355 million restoration of the A-10, which the Air Force wants to retire; buying 24 more General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper drones for $480 million; and moving another $75 million to add back the Compass Call aircraft the Air Force wanted to retire, The bill will lower spending by $200 million for Lockheed Martin’s GPS III satellite; $460 million for the Long Range Strike Bomber (being battled over by Boeing-Lockheed and Northrop Grumman); and $200 million for the long-sough KC-46 airborne tanker (Boeing). The House also cut $460 million from the LRSB.
What didn’t the Navy get? Hmm. Well, they did get: $1.2 billion for 12 new F/A-18E/F Super Hornets (Boeing), $1 billion for six more F-35Bs (Lockheed), the same amount the House Armed Services Committee added; and $170 million for something that’s a bit mystifying: “upgrades jamming protection for F/A-18E/F and E/A-18G.” Since the G model is the electronic warfare plane, one wonders.
McCain and Reed added $725 million for “remaining research and development work” for the Unmanned Combat Air System-Demonstration (UCAS-D). And they tell Defense Secretary Ash Carter to develop “competitive prototypes” for “a carrier-based, unmanned, long-range, low-observable, penetrating strike aircraft” — which is what Congress thinks the future UCLASS drone should be, rather than the Navy’s preference for an armed scout.
And then there are the top five items under the rubric of “accelerating Navy modernization and shipbuilding:”
- $800 million for additional advance procurement for Virginia-class submarines
- $400 million for incremental funding authority for one Arleigh Burke-class destroyer
- $199 million for more advance procurement for LHA-8
- $80 million to accelerate the next amphibious ship, LX(R)
- $97 million to build the Afloat Forward Staging Base a bit faster.
One of the most interesting ads is for $400 million for the Third Offset Strategy. The money is targeted at cyber capabilities; low-cost, high-speed munitions; autonomous vehicles; undersea warfare; intelligence data analytics; and directed energy.
McCain added $300 million for one of his most passionate pursuits, doing something to stop Vladimir Putin in his tracks. The money is for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. The bill includes language authorizing counter-battery radars and lethal assistance such as anti-tank weapons for Ukraine.
The bill also takes aim at one of McCain’s favorite targets, bloated staffs. It cuts funding for various headquarters and related work by 7.5 percent for four years, totaling 30 percent by the fourth year. The press release about the markup says that will save $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2016 and savings of $6.8 billion annually by the fourth year. The House bill also targets headquarters staff, pledging to cut enough to save $10 billion over five years.
Not all was amity and light in the markup. Reed, the panel’s top Democrat, came out against the practice of stuffing the Oversea Contingency Operations bill with the money that would otherwise be cut by sequestration. While Reed hasn’t come out in opposition to the bill that just came out of committee today, he did make clear his dismay. “Moving $39.3 billion from the base budget into an overseas contingency account for non-war related projects would be a fiscal and strategic mistake that hinders our commanders’ ability to plan for the future and could end up costing taxpayers more in the long run,” Reed sad in statement this evening. ““Our national defense should be funded as a priority, not a contingency. Congress shouldn’t just increase emergency wartime spending without also addressing the needed investments in education, health care, and our transportation infrastructure here at home.”
His House colleague, Rep. Adam Smith, came out against the House version of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, a very rare move by a ranking member of either party in an armed services committee. The House bill’s many amendments are being voted on as I write.