Panel restores $112 million to Army budget

The House Armed Services Committee Wednesday agreed to restore $111.6 million to the Army's budget for several technologies the service is salvaging from the canceled Future Combat Systems program.

The amendment to the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill, offered by Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, and agreed to by voice vote during the early hours of what will be a marathon markup, reduces to $779.4 million the overall cut to Army modernization efforts that the panel's Air and Land Forces Subcommittee made last week.

The so-called Early Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which includes small, unmanned air and ground vehicles and other systems that struggled through testing last fall, emerged last week as one of the biggest targets for cuts in the bill.

Last week, Air and Land Forces Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., cut all $682.7 million requested for procurement and another $208.3 million in research and development from the Obama administration's $2.3 billion total request for the EIBCT.

But Reyes, whose district includes Fort Bliss -- the Army base that is testing the new equipment -- fought to boost the funding for some of the technologies despite their lackluster test results last year.

Specifically, the amendment would add $34.7 million to procure a small unmanned aerial vehicle built by Honeywell Aerospace and $21.3 million to buy a small unmanned ground vehicle built by iRobot Corp. In addition, the amendment would add $55.6 million to the research and development account for the EIBCT.

Offsets come from small reductions in the Army's other procurement accounts.

In January, lawmakers received a Pentagon report saying the UAV could be seen four kilometers away and heard two kilometers away during tests last year, making it a poor platform for stealthy reconnaissance and surveillance work.

But Honeywell disputes the Pentagon report, particularly its finding that the small UAV can be seen from such a distance. A Honeywell spokeswoman said the company also is developing a rotary engine and exhaust system that will make it quieter.

Smith's subcommittee found that the unmanned ground vehicle is overweight and has limited utility at night because of the limitation of its sensors.

Later Wednesday, Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee ranking member Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., is expected to introduce an amendment that would add eight F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to the fiscal 2011 budget, congressional aides said. The planes are built in St. Louis, near Akin's district.

The amendment comes just days after the Pentagon notified Congress that it plans to proceed with a multiyear procurement deal with Boeing Co. to buy 124 F/A-18 aircraft between fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2013.

The Navy's fiscal 2011 budget request, sent to Congress Feb. 1, includes $1.9 billion to buy 22 Super Hornets and $1.1 billion for 12 E/A-18G Growlers, electronic attack aircraft that use the same airframe. The multiyear deal, according to the Pentagon, would save 10 percent on the cost of each plane, for a total savings over the next four years of $590 million.

To offset the cost of the additional funds, Akin's amendment is expected to target the "Rapid Innovation Fund," which was created in the chairman's mark of the bill to get technologies to the field faster. But Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., is expected to oppose the amendment, even though he also hails from Missouri.

Also Wednesday, the battle over the Air Force's aerial refueling tanker contract could take center stage during markup. Boeing and the European consortium EADS are vying for the contract, whose potential value is $40 billion.

Smith is expected to introduce an amendment that would require the Pentagon to consider in its bid evaluation a World Trade Organization finding that EADS received illegal government subsidies. His state is home to the Boeing manufacturing site where the company plans to build its tanker, a modified 767.

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