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Congress offers Christmas cheer to F-35 and F/A-18 programmes

The Lockheed Martin F-35 and Boeing F/A-18 are major winners in an omnibus spending bill announced by US lawmakers Wednesday, with funding granted for 11 more Lightning IIs than requested by President Obama in February.

The $1.15 trillion spending package would fund the government in Fiscal 2016 if passed by both chambers of Congress. It includes $572.7 billion for defence, of which $111 billion procures new hardware and $69.8 funds research and development.

If passed, the spending deal would bless the F-35 programme with $1.33 billion in additional procurement money for an extra three F-35As, six F-35Bs and two F-35Cs, just as production ramps up in Fort Worth, Texas.

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The Marine Corps F-35B has been declared ready for combat.

USMC

Congress also extended the at-risk Boeing F/A-18 production line in St Louis, Missouri, by funding seven more EA-18G Growlers and five F/A-18E/F Super Hornets for the navy.

Other air force increases include $80 million for four extra General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reapers, and $64.5 million for one more CV-22 Osprey as attrition reserve for air force special operations forces.

The bill also restores funding for the EC-130H electronic warfare turboprops and – to an undefined extent – Fairchild Republic A-10 attack aircraft the air force sought to retire.

Congress will also commit funds for a dozen KC-46 tankers despite a troubling start for the Boeing programme, which achieved first flight in September after significant delays.

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Bell Helicopter UH-1Y "Venom"

USMC

The navy aircraft procurement account has been boosted with one extra Bell UH-1Y Venom utility helicopter ($24.5 million) and one Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned maritime patrol aircraft ($95.6 million).

For army aviation, the bill funds 102 Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawks and 64 remanufactured Boeing AH-64 Apaches.

Congress is expected to vote on the bill by Christmas, three months into the 2016 fiscal calendar. Many of the increases were based on "unfunded priority lists" requested by lawmakers.

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