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CR Passed, LCS and F136 Win, For Now

Congress last night passed a new Continuing Resolution set to fund the government at FY-10 levels through March 4, keeping one controversial DoD program alive while tweaking and slightly expanding another.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this spending package is the fact that the Senate granted the Navy permission to move ahead with its plan to buy a total of 20 of both classes of Littoral Combat Ship built by Lockheed Martin and Austal USA over the next five years. The sea service claims the move will save $2.9 billion over the original plan to award a contract for 19 ships of one class built by either Lockheed or Austal and allow for the purchase of an additional ship. The Navy plans to take the cash it saves from the deal and put it towards other shipbuilding needs.

This comes over the objections of former Navy man Sen. John McCain, who during a hearing last week called the formerly-troubled LCS program an embarrassment and urged lawmakers to put off a decision on the dual buy for several months so the issue could be studied further. Navy officials responded that if they weren't allowed to move ahead with the split purchase by the end of December, they would move ahead with their original plan.

The bill also continues funding for the F136 alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at FY-10 levels. However, some program watchers are worried that the Office of Management and Budget will put restrictions on the cash it sends to the Pentagon to bar any money from being spent on the second engine.

Still, the fact that the new Congress, who supports the F136, will now be working on the FY-11 funding levels means, "time is on [the F136's] side, as the song goes," said Teal Group aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia yesterday.

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