SASC Authorization Bill Contains Cuts to Air Force, Boosts to Navy Programs

With gains to shipbuilding, undersea warfare and its tactical aircraft fleet, the Navy emerged as the major winner in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s (SASC) fiscal year 2016 defense authorization bill, parts of which were unveiled last week.

The bill would make major cuts and impose limitations on funding to key Air Force programs, and keep it from divesting aircraft officials say it needs to get rid of to pay for other priorities. The committee would prohibit the service from retiring A-10 close air support planes and EC-130H Compass Call electronic warfare aircraft, restoring $355 million and $75 million, respectively, for operations and maintenance costs for those fleets.

The Air Force also took the brunt of cuts to major programs. Like the House Armed Services Committee, the Senate committee slashed the Long Range Strike Bomber by $460 million, allotting the Air Force the maximum amount of money it can spend during this fiscal year because of program delays in awarding a contract to either Northrop Grumman [NOC] or a Boeing [BA]-Lockheed Martin [LMT] team.  The KC-46A tanker built by Boeing was trimmed back by $200 million in the SASC mark, less than the $224 million reduction in the House’s National Defense Authorization Act. The Senate committee’s bill would also strip $200 million from the GPS III satellite program, which is currently being built by Lockheed Martin. 

SASC would pare back the Army’s Warfighter Information Network-Tactical program by $200 million, a cut several times the size of the $40 million reduction authorized by the House. It recommended a smaller cut for service’s AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar under development by Northrop Grumman. The House authorized a $40 million decrease, while Senate committee supports a $32 million cut.

Unsurprisingly, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program, which committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.)

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee

has vehemently criticized in the past, was hit with a number of cuts and oversight measures. The LCS was envisioned as a single mission ship with packages of weapons, sensors and other equipment that could be swapped out to perform minehunting and  anti-submarine and surface warfare. However, the mine countermeasures package would endure major cuts if SASC’s version of the bill is approved. The committee would cut $55.8 million—more than half the $85.1 million sum asked for by the Navy— from the ship’s mine countermeasures mission module because of “unsatisfactory operational testing,” the committee news release stated.  Another piece of the MCM package—the remote minehunting system, for which the House authorized the full $87.6 million—was slashed by $65.6 million in Senate panel’s NDAA.

Funding for LCS-25 and LCS-26 would be limited until the Navy provides an acquisition strategy for both the mission modules and LCS 25 through 32, a plan to upgrade the Flight 0 and Flight 0+ hulls, and a test and evaluation master plan for the mission modules. The committee also caps procurement, research and development, design, construction and advance procurement funding of the first frigate version of the vessel—LCS-33—until the Navy Secretary submits a capabilities development document and other reports. Austal USA and Lockheed Martin build the two versions of the LCS.

SASC also recommended a $95 million cut for “troubled” information technology programs across all the services.

The LCS program was one of the few Navy programs with funding either reduced or limited by the committee.

The committee raised the Navy shipbuilding budget by about $1.7 billion above the president’s budget to accelerate hull procurement. That includes $75 million for the next-generation tug and salvage ship (T-ATS(X)), which would speed up procurement by two years and allow for delivery in fiscal 2016, and  $34 million to hasten delivery of the landing craft utility replacement by one year. Funding increases could also speed up delivery of the LX(R) amphibious ship, afloat forward staging base, and LHA-8 by a year, committee aides told Defense Daily.

The SASC bill contains an extra $79.1 million to fund shock trials for the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier (CVN-78), but limits $100 million in funding for CVN-79 and $191.4 million for CVN-80 until certain conditions are met.

It also includes $20 million to accelerate procurement of advanced submarine towed sonar arrays, $28 million for two additional Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program Block II systems built by Lockheed Martin and $60 million for DDG-51 ballistic missile defense upgrades.

SASC also recommended adding $1.2 billion to procure 12 F/A-18 Super Hornets for the Navy and $1 billion for six joint strike fighters for the Marine Corps. It also authorizes $170 million for Super Hornet and E/A-18G Growler upgrades included on the Navy’s unfunded priority list. Lockheed Martin manufactures the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and Boeing builds the Super Hornet.

Unmanned aerial systems also emerged as a priority for the committee. SASC authorized the Air Force to buy a total 53 MQ-9 Reapers built by General Atomics, an increase of 24 units for a total $1 billion in procurement costs. The House OK’d the purchase of 29 aircraft, as spelled out in the president’s budget.

The Senate committee also poured money into developmental unmanned systems. Unlike the House, which followed the president’s budget request and allocated no funding for the Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) program—a test effort meant to evaluate how to integrate drones on aircraft carriers--SASC included $350 million to continue demonstrations with the current X-47B aircraft developed by Northrop Grumman.

The operational follow-on to the UCAS-D program, the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS), has stalled as the Defense Department reviews requirements.  However, SASC’s bill authorizes a wholly new competitive prototyping initiative that seems to push the service along the path of developing the highly weaponized UAS envisioned by many in Congress. The $375 million effort would yield “at least two follow-on air systems that move toward a UCLASS program capable of long-range strike in a contested environment,” according to a committee press release.

Submarines and undersea warfare also received an expansion of funding in the committee’s NDAA. It increases funding for the Virginia-class submarine program by $800 million. The bill fully funds the $1.39 billion for the Ohio-class replacement, but does not put that money into the national sea-based deterrence fund as the House bill does.

SASC also added $12 million to speed up submarine combat and weapons control upgrades, $48 million for advanced undersea payloads for submarines and extra funding for a submarine launched UAS.

Like the House, SASC recommended adding $72 million to buy an extra 16 M88A2 Hercules recovery vehicles for the Army. It allotted $40 million for lethality upgrades to the Army’s Stryker vehicle, which received a $44.5 million bump in the House NDAA. BAE Systems manufactures the Hercules, and its rival General Dynamics [GD] makes the Stryker.

The bill would also increase funding for the Lockheed Martin-manufactured Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement by $200 million, as well as adding funding for Tomahawk missiles to sustain the production line. Raytheon [RTN] produces the Tomahawk.

 While fiscal year 2016 funding for the Air Force’s F-35A fleet remains intact, the service must satisfy certain conditions before the Senate will dole out all of it. The Air Force will only be able to access $4.3 billion of its total $5.2 billion request until the Defense Secretary certifies that all F-35As delivered in 2018 are equipped with Block 3F software, hardware and weapons that are fully combat capable. The NDAA also would require the Secretary of Defense to  reevaluate the number of F-35s required by the military.

In space, the committee placed a heavy focus on finding an alternative to the Russian-made RD-180 rocket motor. The bill requires the Pentagon to submit a plan for developing and fielding a replacement to the engine by 2019.

McCain said in a press conference last week that he is banking on SpaceX developing an engine by 2017, something that company officials have said is in the realm of possibility.  

“We cannot and must not be dependent on Russian rocket engines. The sooner we are away from them, the better we are,” McCain said.

The bill would grant some flexibility to companies using Russian-made engines. Winners of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Phase1A competition would be allowed to use the engine of their choice, meaning that the military could buy as many as nine RD-180s.





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