A Senate Armed Services Committee panel markup of the National Defense Authorization Act adds money to Army helicopter programs, and supports the shifting of Guard Apache helicopters to the active Army while the Guard receives Black Hawks and Lakotas (above). (US Army)
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WASHINGTON — A US Senate subcommittee on Tuesday approved a portion of a defense bill that increases funding for Army helicopters but punts a decision on the Air Force’s A-10 attack plane to the full committee.
In about a half hour, the Senate Armed Services Airland subcommittee approved its version of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The full panel is expected to begin work on cobbling together each subcommittee section, as well as addressing controversial matters like the A-10, Wednesday afternoon.
Chairman Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told reporters his subpanel has not finished work on finding a way to reverse the Air Force’s proposal to retire the A-10 fleet because senators and aides are still searching for a budgetary offset to pay for keeping the venerable planes flying.
Full committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., is requiring any provision or amendment that would block a Pentagon plan to cut weapon systems to feature a legitimate offset. Levin has been working with members of an A-10 advocacy coalition that includes GOP Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — the influential “Three Amigos.”
But Levin and the Ayotte-led group have yet to agree on an offset plan nearly 24 hours before the full SASC will begin marking up the entire bill behind closed doors, Blumenthal said.
The Airland portion of the legislation includes tens of millions in funding more than requested for the Army’s Black Hawk helicopter program. It also adds funds for the service’s Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) program.
Blumenthal said it “supports” the Obama administration’s requests for the triservice F-35 fighter program, as well as the multiservice Chinook helicopter initiative and the Army’s Apache helicopter program.
The Airland chairman said this sets the stage for an independent commission to study the Army’s proposal to shift all of the Guard’s Apache attack helicopters into the active force while receiving several hundred Black Hawk and Lakota multiuse helicopters in return.
A committee aide told reporters the exact language and how the Army could proceed while the commission conducts its work is “still being negotiated.” The aide said an agreement will be finalized “probably Friday.”
But Blumenthal added that the expected bill language would allow the Army to begin some Apache transfers as the pending commission conducted its study.
“It’s a compromise that really accommodates everyone’s interests,” Blumenthal told reporters. “It will retain a commission. … It enables the Army to make some transfers of helicopters, and so it accommodates the Department of Defense.”
The House’s version of the NDAA would essentially delay the Apache transfer plan while the Government Accountability Office conducts its own study.
Otherwise, Blumenthal said the subcommittee “adhered to the request.” ■