By Emelie Rutherford

The first signs of how Congress wants to tweak the Pentagon’s budget proposal emerged yesterday, when the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) unveiled plans to potentially revive the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s alternate engine, limit amphibious-vehicle spending, and boost missile-defense funding.

The HASC subcommittees today will start marking up portions of the policy-setting defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2012, which starts Oct. 1. It unveiled most of its subcommittee’s proposed pieces of legislation yesterday.

The Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee’s legislative plan, or "mark," calls for prodding the Pentagon to bring back the F-35 alternate engine. The Defense Department terminate the Rolls-RoyceGeneral Electric [GE] F136 program last week, shortly after Congress agreed to kill FY ’11 funding for it.

A section of the Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee’s legislation would not specifically authorized FY ’12 funding for the second engine, which is an alternate to the main F-35 engine, Pratt & Whitney‘s [UTX] F135. Yet the subcommittee’s plan says it would "limit the obligation or expenditure of funds for performance improvements to the F-35 Lightning II propulsion system unless the Secretary of Defense ensures that funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or otherwise made available for fiscal year 2012 for the continued development and procurement of two options for such propulsion system are obligated or expended in order to ensure the competitive production of such propulsion system."

Such "performance improvements" would relate to increasing the performance and thrust of the F135 main engine, but not to improvements related to weight, acquisition cost, operations and support costs, durability, manufacturing efficiencies, observability requirements, and repair costs, according to the subcommittee.

Alternate-engine supporters hope the bill language–if maintained in the final defense authorization bill approved by Congress and President Barack Obama–would compel the Pentagon to see the F135 does not perform as needed, if that is the case, and thus be forced to fund the alternate engine.

Lawmakers agreed to end funding for the alternate engine in the long-delayed FY ’11 defense appropriations bill approved in April, amid a major budget battle between House Republicans and Senate Democrats. Still, despite Pentagon and White House objections, the engine effort has strong support on Capitol Hill. Supporters include House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), HASC Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.), and the heads of the Senate appropriations and armed services committees.

HASC Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee Chairman Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) said yesterday his panel’s mark "reflects two important realities concerning the industrial base which produces this equipment."

"First, the workers and companies in our industrial base supply chains can’t be turned off and on like a light switch," he said. "Second, and in particular, our country has to maintain the capability to build and field modernized Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles."

The panel’s proposal would authorize $425 million above the Pentagon’s request for modernizing Abrams and Bradleys. The Army’s current plan for the vehicles would lead to breaks in their production lines lasting for one to three years, a situation Bartlett deemed costly and unacceptable.

Meanwhile, the HASC Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee’s proposal would "limit the obligation of funds committed for the amphibious assault vehicle until the Secretary of Defense meets certain requirements."

Panel chairman Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) has been concerned about the Pentagon’s plans to cancel General Dynamics‘ [GD] Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) and in its place develop a new Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV), buy a new Marine Personnel Carrier, and upgrade existing Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs). Navy officials briefed Akin’s subcommittee last month on their EFV-canceling plans.

"The committee remains concerned that the (Defense) Department failed to conduct the proper analysis prior to making the decision to terminate the EFV program," the Seapower and Projection Forces mark states. "The committee has yet to see the detailed analysis that would show one way or the other whether or not other alternatives may have been a more efficient solution rather than terminating the EFV program."

It says FY ’12 funds cannot be spent on amphibious vehicle efforts until the Navy conducts an analysis of alternatives for the vehicles and submits a detailed report to Congress.

The panel says it is concerned the Pentagon cannot afford a "comprehensive" upgrade to the AAV and a new ACV program, and suggests a "more affordable plan" for making just minor survivability upgrades to the AAV.

For ballistic missile defense, HASC Strategic Forces subcommittee Chairman Michael Turner (R-Ohio) wants to add $109.7 million to the Pentagon’s request of $10.1 billion.

"Maintaining this deterrent is important for the security of our homeland and our allies," Turner argues.

Yet Strategic Forces Ranking Member Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) said she disagrees with Turner on the need for $100 million worth of that increase, which would go towards the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, boosting funding from the requested $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion.

"I look forward to having engaging debates with my colleagues on missile defense provisions and on nuclear weapons policy at full committee next week," Sanchez said.

The other ballistic-missile defense increases Turner wants include:

  • $50 million, above the Pentagon’s $565.4 million request, for buying additional Aegis Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IB interceptors;
  • $40 million, more than the $424.5 million requested, for SM-3 Block IIA co-development;
  • $50 million, on top of the $833.2 million proposed, to buy additional THAAD launchers and equipment to support interceptor production ramp-up;
  • $20 million, above the $46.9 million request, for Airborne Infrared (ABIR);
  • $50 million, more than the $96.3 million requested, for Directed Energy Research including the Diode Pumped Alkaline-gas Laser System (DPALS) and Airborne Laser Test Bed (ALTB); and
  • $110 million, on top of the $106.1 million proposed, for U.S.-Israel missile defense cooperative efforts–including the Arrow Weapon System, Arrow-3, and David’s Sling.

Turner is calling for two major decreases to the Pentagon’s proposed ballistic missile defense funding: $149.5 million less than the $406.6 million proposed for Medium Extended Air Defense (MEADS), and $160.8 million below the $160.8 million requested for Precision Tracking Space System (PTSS).

Lawmakers have been frustrated that the Pentagon may have to pay more than $800 million to exit the three-nation MEADS program in 2014. The air-defense program’s lead contractor is a group dubbed MEADS International that includes Lockheed Martin [LMT].

The Strategic Forces’ proposal would limit the availability of FY ’12 MEADS funding until the defense secretary either negotiates a termination with partner nations Italy and Germany or restructures the program and ensures parts of it are transferred to at least one current weapons program.

The panel wants varied information from the Pentagon, including a plan from the Missile Defense Agency on GMD flight-test failures and notification before the Pentagon announces where it wants to homeport Aegis ballistic missile defense ships in Europe.

For national-security space efforts, the Strategic Forces subcommittee wants to decrease the Pentagon’s $10.2 billion request by $795 million. The panel also wants to decrease the proposal for Conventional Prompt Global Strike by $25 million.

The HASC’s Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee’s proposal stresses "the importance of identifying and incentivizing the development of new technologies and processes to counter threats created in non-traditional realms, such as cyber," according to it chairman, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas).

The HASC, breaking with its practice of recent years, unveiled yesterday the legislation five of its six subcommittees will craft this week in markup sessions, with information on the sixth subcommittee, on Readiness, due for release today. The committee previously did not release such information before the subcommittee markup sessions, during which the language generally is modified only slightly or not at all.

The markups, or bill-writing sessions, will start today, with the Tactical Air and Land, Strategic Forces, Emerging Threats and Capabilities, and Military Personnel subcommittees. Two more subcommittees–on Seapower and Projection Forces and on Readiness–are scheduled to mark up Thursday. The full committee’s day-plus-long markup is set for next Wednesday, May 11.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will mark up its own version of the FY ’12 defense authorization bill later this year, and the House and Senate appropriations committees will craft their versions of the budget-setting FY ’12 defense appropriations bill.