Senate panel backs F-22, F-35 engine cuts

By Megan Scully

September 9, 2009

The Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday approved a $636.3 billion fiscal 2010 Defense spending bill that upholds many of the Obama administration's weapons cuts but adds $2.5 billion to buy 10 C-17 cargo planes the Pentagon doesn't want.

With support dwindling for the programs on Capitol Hill and the White House threatening a veto, the subcommittee decided to back administration decisions to end production of the F-22 Raptor after completing the 187 stealthy fighters already ordered and to terminate a second engine program for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

"While we are not in complete agreement with the judgment of administration officials, we have generally concurred with the recommendations of our current leaders," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who also heads the Defense subcommittee, said during the brief markup.

Inouye, who had previously supported buying more F-22s and continuing the alternate engine program, later added that he agreed to terminate several programs "with the hope that today's military and civilian leaders are more prescient than their predecessors in predicting our future needs."

On the alternate engine, Inouye said he would like to "discuss this matter further with the administration." It will be an issue during conference negotiations with the House, which included $560 million in its appropriations bill to continue development of the second engine.

On Wednesday, the Senate panel also approved the administration's decision to end the troubled VH-71 presidential helicopter program, as well as the Combat Search and Rescue helicopter and the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, a major element of the missile defense program.

"Well, the president doesn't want it," Inouye said of the presidential helicopter, whose cost overruns have made the Navy-run program a poster child for problems with the Pentagon's acquisition system. "I don't want to force it down his throat."

The House-passed bill includes $485 million to keep the VH-71 program alive, a provision that drew a veto threat.

But the addition of funding for 10 C-17s in the Senate bill, which would keep production lines for the popular Boeing Co. planes running for an additional year, marks a significant break with Pentagon officials, who have said the 205 C-17s now planned are adequate to meet the military's needs.

Inouye argued on Wednesday that he believes the Pentagon will ultimately conclude that "purchasing additional C-17s and maintaining the strategic asset of a hot airlift production line is the right solution."

The House bill includes $674 million for three additional C-17s.

Aside from the C-17 funding, the Senate bill also adds $1.5 billion for National Guard and Reserve equipment and provides an additional $1.7 billion for a second DDG-51 Arleigh Burke Class destroyer for the Navy next year.

The bill also approves the Pentagon's $7.7 billion request for the Missile Defense Agency, but it shifts money within the budget to boost funding for near-term programs, such as Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense and Theater High Altitude Area Defense.

Meanwhile, the war portion of the $636.3 billion bill -- which provides a total of $128.2 billion to pay for ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan -- includes funding to buy nine more F/A-18E/F Super Hornets than requested for the Navy. It also adds $1.2 billion to buy additional Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected all-terrain vehicles.

The full committee will consider the bill on Thursday, with floor action expected this month.

By Megan Scully

September 9, 2009