House appropriators are considering providing the Air Force with 68 new fighter jets in the fiscal year 2020 defense bill, while cutting funding for several high-profile next-generation research-and-development programs.

The House Appropriations Committee released its FY ’20 defense budget report May 20, which includes $17.8 billion for Air Force procurement, over $1 billion more than the presidential budget request and a 4 percent increase over the enacted FY ’19 dedicated funds.

A U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender refuels an F-35A Lightning II above an undisclosed location, April 30, 2019. The KC-10 and its crew were tasked to support aerial refueling operations for the F-35A’s first air interdiction during its inaugural deployment to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command’s area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Drzazgowski)

The plus-up reflects 12 additional Lockheed Martin [LMT]-built F-35A Joint Strike Fighters, which provides the Air Force with 60 F-35s in FY ’20 for $5.1 billion and moves the service closer to its goal of buying 72 new fighters per year (Defense Daily, May 14).

Appropriators added four new C-130J aircraft to the bill for $392 million and provided additional funds for upgrades to service aircraft, including an extra $73 million for the F-16 Fighting Falcon fleet to upgrade the active electronically scanned array radar, for a total of $308 million; and an additional $130 million for the C-130s to pay for an engine enhancement program and propeller upgrade, for a total of $186 million. Both the F-16 and C-130 are manufactured by Lockheed Martin.

The committee report decreased requested FY ’20 funding for several aircraft programs, including $64.5 million less than the Air Force included for the F-15EX program, deeming the funds “excess to need.” The report includes $985.5 million for the rebooted Strike Eagle program.

The committee is approving the Air Force’s request for new Boeing [BA]-made F-15s because it views the program as the fastest and most cost-effective way to recapitalize the service’s aging F-15C/D fleet, which are stationed in Air National Guard units around the country. “The Committee further finds that considerations of parts commonality, low conversion cost, and operator familiarity make the F-15EX procurement a sensible if regrettably necessary investment,” the report said.

However, lawmakers also request that the Air Force Secretary submit a new report to Congress at least 30 days before a final request for proposals or other contract action is performed that includes “an approved acquisition strategy along with updates to the fielding timeline and cost estimates (if applicable), an explanation of the scope and schedule for the testing plan, and options for accelerating fielding in comparison to the budget exhibits submitted with the fiscal year 2020 request.”

Appropriators also made small unit cost adjustments that led to reduced funding for the Air Force’s KC-46A aerial refueler procurement program and MQ-9 Reaper procurement. Boeing is building the KC-46 while General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. produces the Reaper.

Air Force research-and-development funds were decreased from the service’s original request by over $820 million, to about $44.7 billion. Appropriators halved the service’s $1 billion request for next-generation air dominance R&D programs, citing a classified adjustment, but added $50 million to further develop low-cost attritable aircraft technology, to include more testing with the XQ-58A Valkyrie. The long-range, high subsonic unmanned aerial vehicle was developed by the Air Force Research Lab and Kratos Defense and Security Solutions and completed a successful first flight March 6 and has five planned test flights for 2019.

Lawmakers also decreased R&D funding for the service’s Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) program by $10 million to $25.6 million, citing a lack of a clear execution plan. The Air Force launched ABMS last year as a new concept meant to replace the previous Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) recapitalization program with a “system of systems” approach of connecting sensors on platforms the Air Force already owns to perform the same mission.

In terms of other procurement funding changes, the House Appropriations Committee shifted all proposed ammunition funding out of overseas contingency operations (OCO) into procurement to include $1.6 billion, with the largest amount by far allotted to new Boeing-made Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) for just over $1 billion.

The House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to markup the FY ’20 defense bill Tuesday morning on Capitol Hill.