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House Adds 5 Growlers, Amphib to Defense Budget

The House Armed Services Committee added funding to the 2015 defense budget for five EA-18G Growler aircraft, a new amphibious assault ship and the refueling of an eleventh aircraft carrier for the Navy.

The HASC’s full-committee mark-up of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act adds $450 million to the legislation for production of five new Growler aircraft even though the Navy’s unfunded priorities list asked for as many as 22 new Growlers.

“The 22 aircrafts would enable us to increase five of our carrier air wing squadrons from five aircrafts, which is the current program of record to seven aircrafts and give us an additional capability. Now we are going to conduct a fleet battle experiment this summer off the East Coast with one of our carriers,” Vice Adm. Paul Grosklags, the Navy’s top uniformed acquisition official, told Congress within the last several months.

Grosklags added that the 22 additional Growlers are particularly needed because the existing EA-6B aircraft will all be retired by 2019.

As of February of this year, the Navy has 97 Growlers in the inventory. The formal program of record calls for 138 Growler aircraft, Lt. Rob Myers, Navy spokesman, added.  Each Growler is said to cost $62 million, Boeing officials said.

Boeing is lobbying for more Growlers saying it needs to have at produce at least two Super Hornets or Growlers per month to keep its production line in St. Louis open.

“The domestic budget for FY15 (fiscal year) have no Super Hornets’ or Growlers so it’s very important to us for Congress to act on the request by the Navy for their unfunded requirements,” said Mike Gibbons, program manager for F/A-18 and EA-18G Growler aircraft.

Industry sources say the Growler is well suited to counter emerging air defense system threats due to its ability to both jam and detect enemy signals.  Air defenses have become more mobile, digital and computerized, industry experts said, making them more difficult for stealthy aircraft to avert, they say.

However, some analysts such as Loren Thompson, a consultant for Lockheed Martin and Boeing, have said that fifth generation stealth fighters are equipped to respond to next-generation air defenses. He said the Growler could be more easily detectable and therefore alert potential enemies as to the presence of other aircraft.

The Congressional committee also added $800 million in new funds to procure a 12th LPD 17 amphibious dock landing ship. Senior Navy leaders, who have said there is a greater need for amphibs than there are available ships, have previously said the service would only procure 11 LPD 17s.

A group of retired Marine generals, including former Commandant Gen. James Conway and former CentCom Commander Sen. James Mattis, wrote a letter to Congress asking that more funding be allocated for amphibs. In particular, the letter requests funding for the 12th LPD 17 and asks that the effort form the basis of the Navy’s effort to procure a new amphib called LX®.

Navy officials have said that the new LX® amphibdesign could be a new design or a configuration of several existing ships such as the existing LSD 41/49 dock landing ship or LPD-17 San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock.

Overall, service leaders say they will come up short of the 33 amphibious warships which the Navy and Marine Corps deemed an acceptable number. The Navy currently has 29 amphibs.

Also echoing the need for more amphibs, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos said there is currently a gap in the Mediterranean because so many Marine Expeditionary Units and Amphibious Ready Groups are in the Central Command area of responsibility.

“There’s no question that we would like to have more amphibious ships. I’d like to have 50-plus amphibious ships,” Amos told lawmakers

The HASC mark-up also adds $483 million to the refueling and overall for the USS George Washington, an aircraft carrier whose continued service will keep the Navy’s carrier fleet at 11.

If the USS George Washington is retired and not refueled to serve the remaining 25 years of its service life – then the Navy’s carrier fleet will drop to 10.  Along these lines, the HASC mark also added $298 million for reactor and power unit funding to support the USS George Washington’s mid-life refueling and overhaul, a process which can take up to four years to complete.

The HASC mark-up also decreased funding for the Navy’s new DDG 1000 destroyer by $54 million and decremented the Littoral Combat Ship by  $450 million, reducing the planned purchase from three per year down to two.

The Committee also added $82 million for plussed-up Tomahawk missile production. It remains to be seen how the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Committees will address these issues -- so these mark-ups, while influential and significant, have a long way to go before being finalized.

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