WASHINGTON — The House Armed Services Committee (HASC), for the second consecutive year, is proposing blocking the retirement of A-10 attack planes. The panel also wants to clear the Navy and Marine Corps to buy additional fighter jets.
The long-expected move was revealed Monday afternoon with the release of Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry's version of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which the full panel will mark up on Wednesday.
The Air Force argues the decades-old A-10s aircraft are too expensive to keep flying in an age of capped defense budgets. Lawmakers reject those arguments, saying the A-10s — which bring jobs to their states and districts — save US lives on the battlefield and must be kept operational.
"Rigorous oversight, endorsements from soldiers and Marines about the protection only the A-10 can provide, and repeated deployments in support of [Operation Inherent Resolve] have persuaded Chairman Thornberry and many members from both parties that the budget-driven decision to retire the A-10 is misguided," according to a HASC fact sheet accompanying the legislation.
The committee notes this about Thornberry's proposal: "Unlike past efforts to restore the platform, the chairman identifies specific funding to restore personnel, and preserve, modify, and upgrade the A-10 fleet.
"With funding secured, the chairman would welcome efforts at markup to prohibit the retirement of the A-10 fleet," states the fact sheet, signaling the contents of one of the tens of amendments the full committee will take up Wednesday.
On a table in the fact sheet showing "resources added" to the Obama administration's 2016 Pentagon spending request is a funding line of the A-10 program of $682.7 million.
Responding to the Navy's and Marine Corps' shared list of so-called "unfunded priorities" submitted earlier this year to lawmakers, the House committee is proposing language that would clear the services to purchase more fighter aircraft than the requested.
"As the demand increases, it is vital that Congress address the shortfall in strike aircraft for the Navy and Marine Corps — including the replacement of Harrier aircraft lost in Afghanistan," states the HASC fact sheet.
"To that end, the chairman's proposal authorizes 12 additional F-18s [Super Hornets] for the Navy and six additional F-35Bs for the Marine Corps," according to the committee.
"The chairman also supports the budget request for 57 total F-35 aircraft, but recommends targeted adjustments based on contract savings and program oversight concerns."
The panel proposes an additional $1.15 billion for the extra dozen Boeing-made F/A-18 Super Hornets above the number requested by the Navy, and an additional $1 billion for the six extra Lockheed Martin-manufactured F-35Bs.
The legislation includes a provision that would clear the Army National Guard to spend funds above its request for Sikorsky-made UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters. The summary states the Guard would get $136.8 million for new helos. choppers.
In a move opposed by Democrats — especially in the Senate, where the idea has been met with resistance in the past — the bill would clear the Pentagon to spend $30 million on an East Coast missile defense site.
As Defense News reported Friday evening, the HASC bill proposes removing $460 million from the research and development of the Air Force's next-generation bomber — but that may not be bad news for the service.
A source said that cut likely was made in coordination with the bomber program office.
The HASC fact sheet has this to say on the sizable reduction: "The new bomber program is a key element in DoD's planned investment in long-range strike. The proposal authorizes the full amount for the program that the Air Force can execute in FY16, given contract award delays." The panel would cut the bomber request by $460 million.
The panel also would make cuts to the Air Force's KC-46A aerial tanker program to a level it dubs "the level the Air Force can execute in FY16." Its proposed tanker funding reduction is $224 million.
The HASC also is proposing language it says would push Air Force officials to "move faster than it is planning to end reliance on Russian rocket engines." To that end, the committee's bill contains a provision altering Air Force space launch contracting. And the panel is proposing $184.4 million not requested for a new US rocket.
The panel also used cuts from other areas of the defense budget to add funds for other programs, including:
• Joint US-Israeli missile defense programs ($329.8 million).
• Navy destroyer modifications ($120 million).
• Navy's LX(R) amphibious ship program ($279 million).