By Emelie Rutherford

Defense authorizers unveiled yesterday a final Pentagon policy bill that kills a previous House attempt to continue production of the F-22 jet fighter the Obama administration opposes yet keeps alive the also-unrequested F-35 Joint Strike Fighter second engine.

The House is expected to take up this compromise fiscal year 2010 defense authorization bill today, followed by a final Senate vote before it is sent to President Obama for his signature or veto.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.) did not say definitively yesterday if they think authorizing $560 million for the General Electric [GE]-Rolls-Royce F-35 alternate engine will spur a veto.

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has raised objections to the alternate, backup engine effort and said advisers would recommend Obama veto legislation that “would seriously disrupt” the F-35 aircraft effort.

Levin told reporters yesterday he hopes the F-35 funding profile in the bill would not fit that criteria. The final legislation, unlike the House version, fully authorizes the Pentagon’s $6.8 billion request for 16 F-35s for the Marine Corps, 10 for the Air Force, and four for the Navy. And the conference agreement does not follow the House’s earlier move to divert money from within the F-35 program to cover the engine effort, the SASC chairman noted at the Capitol.

“So even though the administration clearly opposes this action, and let there be no doubt about that,…(for) a principal source of their opposition (regarding taking money from the F-35 program for the second engine)…there was an attempt to address that,” said Levin. He personally supported continuing the second engine yet backed the Senate position against it in conference negotiations.

Levin also emphasized the authorization bill is not the final say on the engine effort’s future, which still would have to survive a House-Senate conference committee of the corresponding appropriations bill for the Pentagon. The second engine funding is in the House-passed appropriations legislation but not the Senate version just passed Tuesday night.

McCain, who tried unsuccessfully to omit the alternate engine from the defense authorization measure, told reporters “the administration has not communicated yet their position” on the engine authorization in the conference report.

The authorization conference agreement appears to signal the end of congressional efforts to build more than 187 of Lockheed Martin‘s [LMT] F-22 stealth fighters for the Pentagon. The House defense authorization bill, subsumed by the conference agreement, was the only active legislation that would have extended U.S. production beyond 187 jets.

“I do think it’s the end of the program,” Levin said,

The House-Senate agreement, though, does call for a Pentagon report on “issues surrounding potential foreign military sale of the F-22,” according to a SASC summary of the agreement. The final appropriations bill also is expected to include language paving the way for nations such as Japan to buy simplified versions of the advanced fighter jet.

The authorization conference agreement would authorize funding for no additional Boeing [BA]-built C-17 cargo aircraft. Yet continued production of them appears assured, because the Senate passed an appropriations bill Tuesday night with 10 C-17s, and the version of the budget-setting legislation the House passed in July includes funding for three of the cargo haulers.

The agreement also keeps a legal requirement that major surface combatants and large-deck amphibious ships be built with nuclear-power systems. The Senate bill called for scrapping the nuclear-propulsion requirement, which it said would drive up ship building costs too much for the Navy. Yet House lawmakers, who previously instituted the nuclear mandate in FY ’08 and FY ’09, prevailed in negotiations.

Summaries say the conference agreement, which authorizes the base Pentagon budget and war funding for FY ’10, also:

  • authorizes the Pentagon’s $85 million request for cancellation and program-management costs for Lockheed Martin’s VH-71 presidential helicopter, while also encouraging Gates to continue procurement of the increment 1 choppers to salvage investments already made;

  • includes $6.7 billion for Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, a $1.2 billion boost over the Pentagon request intended to meet an urgent-request from theater for more all-terrain MRAPs (M-ATVs) built by Oshkosh Corp. [OSK].
  • authorizes 18 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, $512 million above the Pentagon’s request for nine of the Boeing jets;
  • allows the Pentagon to enter into a multi-year Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler procurement contracts with Boeing, and authorizes $108 million in advance-procurement monies to support a potential multiyear deal;
  • cuts, from the morphing Future Combat Systems program, $27 million for the Non-Line of Slight Cannon and $184 million for the now-canceled Manned Ground Vehicle effort because of “excess termination liability;”
  • authorizes a cut of $209.5 million for the C-130 avionic modernization program because of delays;
  • includes the Navy’s full $940.1 million request for two T-AKE dry cargo/ammunition ships;
  • mandates the Navy conduct a series of analyses before committing monies to buy a future surface combatant after FY ’11;
  • authorizes an increase in Special Operations Command funding by $100 million to meet its “unfunded requirements” request;
  • for missile defense, authorizes an increase of $23 million for procurement of additional Standard Missile-3 Block IA interceptor missiles and a boost of $20 million for sustainment of the Ground-Based Interceptor vendor base;
  • repeals the provision directing the Department of Energy to develop a Reliable Replacement Warhead; and
  • supports Defense Secretary Gates’ request to cancel programs including the Combat Search and Rescue helicopter, Multiple Kill Vehicle, and Kinetic Energy Interceptor, and to curtail the Airborne Laser effort.