By Megan Scully
WASHINGTON (May. 7, 2008) - The House Armed Services Air and Land Forces Subcommittee voted unanimously Wednesday to approve its portion of the FY09 defense authorization bill, cutting $200 million from the Army's Future Combat Systems and $166 million from the service's Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter to fund more pressing priorities.
Indeed, subcommittee members agreed to add $800 million to fill equipment shortfalls for the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, whose leaders have testified repeatedly about dramatic shortages in inventories.
"The [chairman's] mark first addresses the near-term imperative to provide all the equipment our soldiers and airmen need for their combat and domestic response needs," Air and Land Forces Subcommittee Chairman Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, said in his opening statement. "Doing so is a non-negotiable responsibility of this subcommittee, and takes precedence over all other considerations."
The subcommittee approved its portion of the authorization bill (H.R. 5658) by voice vote.
The panel's cut to the Pentagon's $3.6 billion request for FCS is far smaller than the panel's previous cuts to the program amid cost and feasibility concerns. But the mark includes five new provisions aimed at boosting congressional oversight of the $160 billion program and shifts $33 million from long-term FCS development to more near-term portions of the program. The Senate Armed Services Committee's version of the bill provides full funding for FCS.
Meanwhile, the cut to the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, second only in size to the FCS cut, was the result of concerns about cost increases and delays. The Pentagon sought $438.9 million for ARH, from which the Senate version cuts $75 million. The panel approved over Pentagon objections $526 million for a second engine program for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It approved a $2.2 billion request to upgrade Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Stryker armored vehicles and another $570 million to buy six C-130 Hercules transport planes.
In addition, the panel approved $1.6 billion for eight F-35s; with the remaining eight F-35s in the Pentagon's request to be approved by another subcommittee. The subcommittee agreed to recommend to the full committee some major changes to areas that fall outside its jurisdiction. Those include $3.9 billion in FY09 war funding for 15 more C-17 Globemaster III cargo planes not requested by the Pentagon. The manufacturer of the C-17, Boeing Co., has long warned that it will soon end production of the aircraft, which has a broad base of support in Congress, if it does not receive new orders.
The House's version of the pending supplemental spending bill also includes money for 15 C-17s.
The Abercrombie panel also backed $523 million in war spending for advanced procurement for 20 more F-22 aircraft in FY10. The current multiyear contract for F-22s expires in FY09, but the Air Force has said it would like 198 more of the fighters than the 183 now planned. The Senate's version includes additional F-22 money that could be used either for advanced procurement or efforts to shut down Lockheed Martin's production line.