Panel rejects bid to divert funds for Bradley upgrades

The House Armed Services Committee has denied a Defense Department request to transfer $153.8 million from Bradley Fighting Vehicle modernization efforts to cover unexpected operations and maintenance costs and other expenses.

In a long reprogramming request sent to Capitol Hill in June, Pentagon comptroller Robert Hale sought approval to move $1.1 billion from various Defense Department and military accounts and programs, including the Bradley, to pay other bills.

The House committee's leaders approved most of the requested transfers in a July 23 letter to Hale, but said the Army needs to continue the Bradley upgrades to bridge the gap until the service begins fielding its new Ground Combat Vehicle.

The Pentagon must send reprogramming requests to the four congressional defense committees, but only one committee needs to reject a funding transfer for it to be considered denied.

The GCV, which ultimately will replace the Bradley, is the successor to the manned ground vehicle portion of the canceled Future Combat Systems program. The Army plans to start fielding the vehicles in 2017.

"The committee believes that the Army's plans regarding its future mechanized vehicle fleet and force structure remain uncertain," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., and ranking member Rep. Howard (Buck) McKeon, R-Calif., explained in the July 23 letter. "Given this uncertainty, the committee views the proposed transfer as premature."

In its reprogramming request, the Pentagon said it targeted the Bradley money because of a delay in awarding a competitive contract for the installation of a situational awareness upgrade on the vehicle. Skelton and McKeon recommended that the money be used instead to accelerate the fielding of upgraded Bradleys to more Army National Guard units.

Meanwhile, the committee has not decided whether it will allow the Pentagon to transfer $343.2 million from other accounts that affect the Bradley program, according to a July 30 letter Skelton and McKeon sent to Hale. The Pentagon asked for that transfer in a subsequent reprogramming request in July that proposed shifting nearly $4 billion from various defense programs to pay other bills.

The fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill approved by the House in May would fully fund the Pentagon's $934.4 million request for GCV research and development.

But the committee remains skeptical of the vehicle program. The Army "may be repeating the history of the failed Future Combat Systems program," the committee said in a summary it released of the defense bill.

"The committee urges the Army to review the requirements of the GCV to separate 'needs' from 'wants' and build a base model that can later be upgraded," the committee added.

Last week, the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee cut $100 million from the GCV program when it approved its version of the fiscal 2011 Defense Appropriations bill.

"I worry about the Army and their procurement efforts," Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Norm Dicks, D-Wash., said after the closed-door markup. "A seven-year development program -- I get nervous," he added.

Besides the Future Combat Systems, other Army programs canceled in recent years include the Crusader self-propelled howitzer program and the Comanche reconnaissance and attack helicopter.

The Army plans to buy 1,450 GCVs for an estimated total cost, including development and production, of $40 billion.

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