The Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense panel (SAC-D) approved a $675-billion fiscal year 2019 defense appropriations bill June 26 that would fund 89 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, 12 more than the Trump administration requested.

The Marine Corps and Navy would get a total of 41 F-35Bs and F-35Cs, up from the request for 29 jets, according to a bill summary. The Air Force’s request for 48 F-35As would be unchanged. 

A Marine Corps F-35B lands on a ship. (U.S. Navy photo)
A Marine Corps F-35B lands on a ship. (U.S. Navy photo)

Increasing the overall quantity would help achieve economies of scale and reduce the per-aircraft price, noted Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the SAC-D’s chairman.

The full SAC, which Shelby also chairs, plans to take up the bill June 28. 

The House version of the bill, which the full House plans to debate this week, would fund 93 Lockheed Martin [LMT]-built F-35s, a 16-jet increase from the request (Defense Daily, June 6).

Unlike the House bill, the SAC-D bill would allow the Air Force to cancel buying a new aircraft to replace the aging E-8C JSTARS ground-surveillance plane. The SAC-D would provide an additional $375 million so the Air Force could focus instead on developing an Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) that fuses threat information from various airborne and other sensors.

The SAC-D added $720 million for “additional” AH-64E Apache Block IIIB new-build helicopters for the Army, $300 million for the Air Force’s light-attack aircraft program, $320 million for 15 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters for the Army National Guard, and $240 million for three V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft for the Navy.

It also added $2.3 billion for Navy shipbuilding, including a second Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). By contrast, the House bill funds three LCSs.

The SAC-D approved additional funding for several key technology areas, including $929 million for hypersonics, $846 million for test and evaluation infrastructure, $564 million for offensive and defensive space capabilities, $447 million for microelectronics, $356 million for cybersecurity, $317 million for directed energy, $308 million for artificial intelligence and $100 million to develop a space-based tracking system for missile defense.

An additional $366 million is provided to boost production of high-priority munitions, including the Joint Air–to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) for the Air Force and Navy and the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile for the Navy.

During the panel’s nine-minute markup, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the ranking member, complained that the Department of Defense, which is slated to get a $165-billion budget increase over two years, wastes money through an overly bureaucratic and risk-averse acquisition process.

“As one person [from DoD] said at a recent closed hearing – I can say this, it’s not classified — people are afraid to be the last person to say yes, so they always want another layer of decision-making to cover themselves,” Durbin said. “People are afraid in the area of innovation to try something that’s risky for fear they’ll be called before one of our committees and embarrassed nationally. That kind of climate and environment is not conducive to the right decisions we need, and it’s not conducive to saving the taxpayers money.”