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Senate NDAA Amendments Piling Up, Many More Expected

Nov. 19, 2013 - 01:55PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
A long way home
One of many amendments to a Pentagon policy bill would delay retirement of A-10 attack planes until several certification requirements were met. (US Air Force)
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WASHINGTON — US senators already have filed nearly 50 amendments to a Pentagon policy bill, including one proposing restrictions on the Air Force’s ability to retire its A-10 attack planes.

It will take the Senate days to clear the amendments already filed. With the list possibly doubling as the week progresses, it is unlikely the chamber will complete the bill before Thanksgiving on Nov. 28 unless the final list can be pared.

The A-10 amendment was filed by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., whose husband was an A-10 pilot. There are no A-10s based in New Hampshire. Aides say she simply is concerned that the Air Force is moving to retire the attack planes before a suitable replacement aircraft will be fielded.

Ayotte’s amendment essentially would delay the retirement plan by slapping a slew of time-consuming — but not difficult —certification requirements. In a large bureaucracy, such things can take time to bounce around from the involved offices and then up to service leaders.

The amendment, if adopted by the chamber and then a House-Senate conference committee, would hold up the release of funds for A-10 retirement plans until the Air Force secretary delivers the following certifications to the congressional defense panels:

“That the F-35A aircraft has achieved full operational capability; That the F-35A aircraft has achieved Block 4A capabilities, including an enhanced electronic warfare capability that will allow the F-35A aircraft to counter emerging threats in a close air support (CAS) environment; and a GBU-53 Small Diameter Bomb version II or equivalent weapon [achieves] operational capability.”

Air brass also would have to certify that “a number of F-35A aircraft exists in the Air Force inventory in sufficient quantity to replace the A-10 aircraft being retired in order to meet close air support capability requirements of the combatant commands,” according to Ayotte’s amendment.

The measure also calls on the US comptroller general to conduct several studies on the service’s A-10 plans.

Aides said it remains unclear when the A-10 amendment will receive a vote during the chamber’s work on the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is expected to file — along with other GOP senators — amendments that would target what he says is unacceptable cost growth for the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program, and another that would give Pentagon leaders more say over what gets cut under sequestration.

McCain delivered an impassioned speech on the latter topic Monday on the Senate floor, saying the indiscriminate cuts are hurting the military’s readiness.

There are several amendments already filed that would require the armed services to submit reports to the defense committees. One example is a measure pushed by Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., requiring a study on the Marine Corps’ amphibious plans.

The commandant would be required, by mid-February, to provide both a written report and a briefing to the defense panels “on the operational risk to the availability of the Marine Corps to meet its obligations under the [Pentagon’s] Defense Strategic Guidance.”

More specifically, that report would have to “provide an evaluation of any operational risk imposed “by the current and planned number of amphibious warfare ships in the amphibious assault force as well as a review of the capabilities of these ships to meet the needs of the Marine Corps.”

Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., are co-sponsors of that amendment.

The same trio, all hailing from shipbuilding states, also is pushing a sense of the Senate amendment urging Pentagon and Navy leaders to “prioritize funding towards increased shipbuilding rates to enable the Navy to meet the full-range of requests from the combatant commands.

“The budget requests for the Navy for future fiscal years,” that measure states, “must realistically anticipate and reflect the true investment necessary to meet stated Navy force structure goals.”

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has submitted an amendment that would require the Pentagon to deliver a report to Congress on a GOP-supported East Coast missile defense shield next year.

Several senators have filed amendments, some non-binding, requiring or urging the military to continue buying long-range strike systems, to provide cost estimates for modernizing the strategic submarine force, and others.

And GOP Sens. Mark Risch of Indiana and Marco Rubio of Florida have an amendment that would ban any US assistance to any nation that develops “ground-launched nuclear capable missile systems that can hit continental U.S.” That appears aimed at cutting off food and other aid to North Korea.

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