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Air Force Funds Rescue Helicopter at Last Minute

In an overview of its half-trillion-dollar budget request for next year, the U.S. Defense Department repeatedly mentions the need to delay funding for a new Air Force helicopter because of spending cuts.

The service wanted to continue development of a new combat rescue helicopter in fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1. But those plans were at risk because of deficit-reduction legislation known as the Bipartisan Budget Act and automatic spending reductions known as sequestration, according to the document.

Take, for example, this line from page 6-3:

"Due to the funding constraints of the BBA, the FY 2015 budget delays the CRH program for 2 years to fully investigate lower cost options," it states. "There is no funding in the FY 2015 request for CRH; however, the development program is funded beginning in FY 2016."

Turns out, that's not entirely correct. There is some money next year for the acquisition program to develop a replacement for the service's HH-60G Pave Hawk, an official said.

Maj. Gen. Jim Martin, the Air Force's budget director, surprised the Pentagon press corps during last week's budget briefing when -- after receiving a note from an aide -- he announced, "Breaking news, we have made a decision to fund the CRH," according to an article by Marcus Weisgerber of Defense News.

When asked when the decision was made, he replied, "It was made today." At which point, the reporters in the room laughed, according to the Pentagon's official transcript of the event.

Martin didn't specify how much money was slated for the program next year, though he explained the funding is left over from this year: "In FY15 there is no money in the budget, but there's enough money in FY14 that will allow us to carry us through FY15."

The program was slated to receive almost $400 million this year, up from nearly $84 million in 2013 and almost $71 million in 2012, according to a previous budget document. The latest funding was for a second lot of two aircraft for engineering, manufacturing and development, it states.

The HH-60G made by United Technologies Corp.'s Sikorsky Aircraft is the Air Force's version of the Army's UH-60 Black Hawk, modified for search-and-rescue missions in any kind of weather condition, according to the Pentagon.

The combat rescue helicopter isn't the only part of an unusually confusing budget submission that's furrowing eyebrows.

The Pentagon's five-year spending plan, known in military parlance as the Future Years Defense Plan, or FYDP (pronounced "fih-dip"), didn't include enough funding for supposed goals such as stopping the downsizing of the Army and Marine Corps at 440,000 active-duty soldiers and 182,000 active-duty Marines, respectfully, and keeping the carrier fleet at 11 ships.

Assuming sequestration remains in effect through 2019, the plan "only funds Army active end strength at 420,000, Marine Corps active end strength at 175,000, and does not fully fund the refueling and overhaul of the USS George Washington aircraft carrier, which would leave the Navy at 10 carriers," according to recent analysis by Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

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