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House Appropriators Add More F-35s for 2015

A U.S. House of Representatives committee has voted to add more funding for the F-35 fighter jet program in fiscal 2015.

The House Appropriations Committee, headed by Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, on Tuesday passed its version of the annual defense spending bill, which included funding for 38 of the stealthy, fifth-generation fighters. That's four more of the aircraft than the Defense Department requested for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

The bill will go to the full House for debate, reportedly sometime this summer before the August recess.

The Pentagon had planned to purchase 42 of the planes, known as Lightning IIs, next year but was forced to reduce the quantity to 34 due to automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.

Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees supported the department's budget request for the Joint Strike Fighter program, though the quantities could still change during negotiations on a final authorization bill.

The F-35 program is the Pentagon's most expensive acquisition effort, estimated to cost a total of about $400 billion for 2,457 aircraft for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

Notably, the House appropriators also differed from their defense committee colleagues in agreeing to retire the A-10 gunship. The panel rejected an amendment that would have steered $339 million from the Pentagon's operations and maintenance account to keep the Cold War-era plane known as the Warthog flying.

The bill was otherwise similar to the one that passed out of the panel's defense subcommittee, headed by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-New Jersey, with more funding for weapons procurement than the President Barack Obama's budget request, but less money for research and development and operations and maintenance.

The procurement funding includes $2.4 billion for 87 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and 37 MH-60S/R choppers made by United Technologies Corp.‘s Sikorsky unit; $1.6 billion for seven KC-46A refueling tankers made by Boeing Co.; and $789 million to refuel the aircraft carrier USS George Washington.

It also includes $975 million for 12 EA-18G Growlers, also made by Boeing. The added money for the Growlers comes after an aggressive lobbying campaign by the Chicago-based aerospace giant to promote the radar-penetrating qualities of the jet over the F-35.

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