The Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee approved a $594.4 billion bill to fund the Pentagon and its wartime operations in fiscal 2014 that guts the administration’s request to purchase 20 Super Tucanos for the Afghan Air Force under the Light Air Support (LAS) program.
The draft of the defense spending bill would slice $416.8 million for LAS and also remove all funding for the purchase of Mi-17 helicopters for Afghanistan.
The decision follows the release in June of a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (Sigar) that called into question the Afghan forces’ ability to operate its current fleet of Mi-17 helicopters and PC-12 aircraft. With that in mind, and following the purchase of 20 Super Tucanos in fiscal 2013, the committee put the brakes on expanding the fleet of additional light attack aircraft, according to a Senate aide.
An industry official confirmed the Senate’s move, saying that although the Sigar report focused on a narcotics unit, the issues remain the same for the Afghan air force. In Afghanistan, pilots are difficult to train, as are aircraft logistics and support personnel. And retention of pilots also is a challenge. “If you’re an English speaker who can fly, you’re a pretty hot commodity,” he says.
Other congressional committees did not contain such an explicit reduction in funding for the accounts, but those bills were drafted before the release of the Sigar report.
The Senate panel’s draft legislation provides $77.8 billion for war spending; $2.9 billion below the administration’s request, according to the subcommittee. The full Senate Appropriations Committee will meet to debate the bill Aug. 1.
Procurement fared well generally; the bill provides an increase of $215 million above what the administration requested. It fully funds the fiscal 2014 purchase of 29Joint Strike Fighters but limits money for development of the fifth-generation fighter.
It fulfills the Pentagon’s request for ArmyChinooks, AH-64 Apache helicopters, the Air Force’s Hercules, and the Navy’s P-8 Poseidon, E-2D Hawkeye and Ospreys.
Research accounts did not do as well, suffering a $1.7 billion reduction.
On the plus side, the bill would fully fund a number of aircraft programs including the Air Force Long Range Strike bomber andtanker. It fully funds the Navy’s Next Generation Jammer and MQ-4 Triton UAV. Funding for the Army and Joint Light Tactical Vehicle also survived intact.
One program feeling pain in this year’s defense spending bill is the Virginia-class submarine’s Virginia Payload Module, which the bill removes funding for altogether because of its “high cost, risk, and lack of validated requirement.”
The bill follows the administration and other moves by Congress in ignoring the current law known as sequestration that restricts defense spending. But Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the subcommittee chairman, called on fellow lawmakers to stop the budget penalty. “With increasingly limited funds, this bill cuts waste, prioritizes department spending, and puts a premium on readiness,” Durbin says. “Our choices will only get tougher if we let sequestration continue for fiscal year 2014 and future spending bills.”
With complications due to sequestration in 2013 and uncertain funding, agencies including the Pentagon have appealed to Congress for funding flexibility. This bill would grant $5 billion in transfer authority for the Pentagon’s overall budget, and another $4 billion in flexibility for war accounts.