The House Appropriations Committee (HAC) is proposing to set up a $28.6 billion “national defense restoration fund” in fiscal year 2018 that the Pentagon could tap for equipment upgrades, technology development, readiness improvements and other purposes to implement its upcoming new defense strategy.

The strategy, which Congress expects to receive in September, “will inform the investments we need to make to rebuild our military,” said Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), chairwoman of the HAC’s defense subcommittee (HAC-D). “The defense restoration fund will enable the [defense] secretary to make necessary investments resulting from that review now, instead of having to wait until 2019.”

The A-10 Warthog. Photo: Air Force.
The A-10 Warthog. Photo: Air Force.

The committee included the fund in its FY 2018 defense appropriations bill, which it approved by voice vote June 29. Under the fund’s provisions, the Department of Defense would have to keep Congress apprised of how it was using the money.

The proposal was not without critics, though. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the HAC’s ranking member, asserted that it “amounts to a slush fund” for DoD.

The bill, which was unveiled June 25 (Defense Daily, June 26), would give DoD a total of $658.1 billion, including $584.2 billion in discretionary funding, $68.1 billion above the FY 2017 enacted level and $18.4 billion above the Trump administration’s request. It also contains $73.9 billion in overseas contingency operations/global war on terrorism funding, or about $10 billion above the request.

“After years of unnecessary and unwise cuts to our national security under the last administration, this legislation is a step forward in rebuilding our military and ensuring our nation is ready to meet any new or existing threat,” said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), the HAC’s chairman.

But Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) called the bill’s figures “meaningless” because Congress has yet to take action to prevent the return in FY 2018 of across-the-board federal budget cuts required by the Budget Control Act of 2011. It is unclear when the full House will consider the bill.

“What’s going to happen to this bill and a lot of others,” Rep. Nancy Kaptur (D-Ohio) predicted, “is there are going to be a couple fellows sitting in a room somewhere at the end of the fall who are going to make decisions for the American people, and most of us won’t be involved in that. This is not the way to govern.”

The legislation would fund the purchase of 84 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, 14 above the Trump administration’s request; 11 Navy ships, two more than requested; 24 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets for the Navy, 10 more than requested; 12 V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft for the Navy and Marines, six more than requested; and 56 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters for the Army, eight more than requested.

The bill adds $582 million to buy six C-130J transport planes for the Air National Guard, $160 million for 14 additional Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile defense interceptors, and $103 million to restart the wing replacement program for the Air Force’s A-10 attack aircraft.

“Since 110 A-10 aircraft require new or overhauled wings and the estimated cost of the program could be as high as $10 million per wing set, completing A-10 wing replacements represents a significant investment over multiple fiscal years,” the committee wrote in a report explaining the bill.

The bill fully funds the $417 million request to jumpstart replacing the Air Force’s aging E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) ground-surveillance aircraft. To ensure the E-8C remains viable until the new aircraft is available, the committee report calls on the Air Force to submit a plan to upgrade the E-8C’s avionics to meet air traffic control mandates.

“The committee expects that the Air Force will not take steps to prematurely retire existing mission-capable E–8 JSTARS aircraft prior to the current estimated initial operational capability (not later than FY 2024) for the new JSTARS platform,” the committee report says.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet taken up its version of the defense bill.