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WASHINGTON — While the US Air Force has been trying to retire its fleet of RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 UAVs, the House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee is again stepping in to keep the birds flying.
In the subcommittee’s markup of the Pentagon’s 2014 budget, lawmakers direct the Air Force secretary “to take all actions necessary to maintain the operational capability” of the Global Hawk and to keep them flying though 2016.
The Global Hawk was once touted as the replacement for the U-2 manned spy plane, but USAF leadership has since concluded that the service would be better off scrapping the Block 30 aircraft while continuing to use the U-2.
And the Army comes in for some criticism over its failure to begin studying the possibility of using drones to resupply its troops in the field, as the Marines have been doing in Afghanistan with the unmanned K-MAX helicopter since early 2012.
Given the force protection benefits of taking trucks off IED-laden roads, “the committee is concerned that the Army, despite having very similar logistical challenges, does not have a cargo UAS program,” they write. The committee has therefore directed the secretary of the Army to submit a report by February explaining how a cargo UAV could be used in Army operations.
The F-35 program was treated kindly by the committee, which fully funds the fighter jet at the levels requested in the Pentagon’s 2014 budget, while also calling for an independent panel to be appointed “to review the development of software for the F-35 aircraft program,” with a report due by March 2014.
In what could be a more controversial line in the proposed bill, the Army would be prohibited from awarding a production contract for the Ground Combat Vehicle program until the service submits a report to lawmakers, the document states.
The Army plans to award an engineering, manufacturing and development contract to only one vendor before making a production decision in 2019, which the service estimates would save about $2.5 billion in development costs in the long run.
The committee worried “that weapon system programs that enter EMD too early without enough “knowledge” can pose a significant risk to the Government,” and demands that the secretary of the Army submit a report outlining how the investment carries minimal risk.
Finally, in a sign that the DoD is in store for some big changes in the coming post-Afghanistan world, the committee asked for a plan for “the future role of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) and to provide this plan to the congressional defense committees not later than 60 days after the enactment of this Act.”
The lawmakers want a description of how JIEDDO’s “major programs and capabilities will be integrated into other components within the Department of Defense or discontinued,” and how much such a reconfiguring of the office would cost.
JIEDDO has been funded under the yearly wartime supplemental bills to the tune of about $20 billion since 2005, but efforts to move the office into the base budget have produced little movement.