The House Appropriations Committee (HAC) released its draft fiscal year 2020 defense appropriations bill May 14, with plans to fully fund the Air Force’s request for new F-15EX fighter jets along with extra F-35A Joint Strike Fighters.
The bill, which provides $690.2 billion in discretionary funding across the Department of Defense, includes over $142 billion in defense procurement funding, $17.8 billion of which will go to Air Force procurement.
House appropriators have elected to fully fund the Air Force’s request for eight Boeing [BA]-made F-15EX aircraft to kickstart the recapitalization of the service’s F-15C/D fleet for $986 million. The service has announced plans to buy up to 80 F-15EX aircraft through FY ’24 should Congress approve the buy, with 144 jets to be procured over the life of the program.
Speaking to reporters at Boeing’s Aircraft Delivery Center in St. Louis Tuesday, Prat Kumar, Vice President and Program Manager for the F-15 Program, said it was “encouraging news” that the HAC members kept the Air Force’s request intact, but noted that this was just the “one step in a long process” toward funds being appropriated.
“This is a validation of the U.S. Air Force strategy” to maintain fighter readiness levels with a mix of fourth- and fifth-generation fighter aircraft, he said.
The House Appropriations defense bill also funds 90 F-35 aircraft for $8.7 billion, 12 more than were included the fiscal year 2020 presidential budget request, and fully funds the Block 4 follow-on development of the F-35 at $1.5 billion.
The Air Force requested 48 F-35As in the FY ’20 presidential budget request (Defense Daily, March 14). It included 12 additional F-35As in its FY ’20 unfunded priorities list, Defense News previously reported, so it is likely that all of the new included jets would go to the Air Force.
The service has stated its need to buy 72 fighter jets a year. The HAC bill would get the Air Force to 60 F-35As, plus eight F-15EX aircraft for a total of 68 fighters in FY ’20.
House appropriators also agreed to fully fund continuing the Air Force’s B-21 Raider next-generation bomber program for $3 billion.
Sixteen C/MC/KC-130J military transport aircraft are included in the draft document, four more aircraft than the original request. That includes four C-130Js for the Air Force Reserve for $1.4 billion. Lawmakers submitted a letter May 8 to the congressional defense authorizing and appropriations committees requesting additional C-130Js (Defense Daily, May 9).
The appropriators also prohibit the transfer of any F-35A aircraft or related equipment to Turkey amid ongoing tensions with the United States and its NATO partners over Ankara’s decision to procure the Russian-made S-400 weapon system.
The HAC draft bill is likely to meet pushback from other lawmakers on the Hill, as it prohibits defense-related funding for construction of the southern border wall. The House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to mark up the draft defense bill May 15. The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to release its draft defense bill, and both armed service scommittees have not yet released their markup bills for the FY ’20 National Defense Authorization Act.