House Panel Protects A-10, Pulls BRAC from Budget

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The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday added $104 billion to the proposed defense budget for 2015 to include hundreds of millions to maintain and grow aviation assets that the services say they no longer want.

At the same time, the committee held fast against Pentagon wishes for a new Base Realignment and Closure act that would allow the services to reduce their footprint by closing down bases and merging units.

The budget that the committee will be sending to the House floor for a vote comes in at more than $600 billion, well over the $496 billion that President Obama sent over. Of the committee total, just over $79 billion is for the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, essentially a war chest of cash that supports ongoing conflicts and is exempt from the Budget Control Act and mandatory sequester cuts.

McKeon noted in the run-up to Wednesday's meeting that the President's budget was $45 billion less than what had been projected for the 2014 budget and $30 billion less than what was finally approved for the current year.

"The President's budget request accommodated those cuts by dramatically reducing the size of the military, increasing out of pocket expenses for military families, and cutting vital programs," according to a McKeon statement.

The committee also included language in the mark up that would prevent or at least stall moves to eliminate or downsize a number of aircraft, including the Air Force's U-2 spy plane, the A-10 Thunderbolt, three Airborne Warning and Control System (AWAC) platforms, and 705 Army observation and training helicopters.

The bill would require the Air Force show that the aerial reconnaissance and intelligence historically provided by the U-2 can be achieved by the Global Hawk before the service can spend a dime to retire the old plane.

The committee put spending restrictions on the Air Force when it came to its A-10 and KC-10 fleets. The A-10, which Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, is leading the charge to save over in the Senate, is a close air-ground support attack plane beloved by infantry troops for its ability to strike nearby enemy forces with great power and accuracy.

The House committee bill will not let the Air Force spend any money in 2015 to retire or prepare to retire the plane, unless it is kept in Type 1000 storage -- meaning it could quickly be returned to duty.

The committee defended its action on the KC-10 aerial refueler, saying retiring such a "high-demand, low-density aircraft ... could have detrimental impacts for the Department of Defense in meeting its global reach and global power objectives."

Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., successfully amended the budget to bar the Air Force from retiring any more than four AWACS planes next year. The service wants to get rid of seven AWACS assigned to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma as part of a longer range goal of shrinking the fleet from 31 to 24.

He also added a restriction to prevent the Air Force from shutting down the 513th Air Control Group at Tinker, the only Reserve unit that carries out the AWACS mission.  It has been on the block to close next year.

Bridenstine, who piloted AWACS aircraft, said the plane is "the quarterback" of the military team, something that combatant commanders turn to for intelligence when wars being.

The committee also pumped an additional $74 million into the Air Force's requested $36 million for C-130H modernization. In McKeon's report explaining the action, he said the committee was disappointed that the Air Force had invested nearly $1.5 billion for engineering, manufacturing, development and testing of the C-130H aircraft modernization  program, yet did not budget to procure and install the system onto aircraft.

Army aviation also came under scrutiny, with the committee saying it wanted to hear from Pentagon brass by Sept. 1 the rationale behind plans to sell off 750 observation and training helicopters. The Army wants to get rid of the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, OH-58 A/C, and TH-67 primary training helicopters as part of an aviation restructuring plan.

The committee is concerned that the Army's plan will hurt the rotorcraft industrial base, which it says already has taken hits because of cuts in defense spending. The committee said it will also want to know what the effect would be on military readiness, the technology transfers that would go with the sales and who the customers would be.

Looking out for the industrial base also prompted McKeon to include in the Navy budget $450 million for five new EA-18G Growlers. Boeing currently has contracts to supply Growlers through 2016, but unless new planes are ordered, it would have to close down the line.

To avoid that scenario, Boeing says it needs enough orders to produce two planes a month. That means the five Growlers inserted into the committee budget buys two and a half months of work.

With the downsizing of the forces, the services have lobbied for another round of BRAC.

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., pitched an amendment to fund BRAC in 2015. The committee budget included zero dollars for a round and McKeon let it be known there was no support for it.

Smith withdrew the amendment.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@monster.com

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