A key US lawmaker has proposed to extend Boeing EA-18G production for several months and save the Lockheed Martin U-2S from an early retirement, but allow the Department of Defense to divest the Bell Helicopter OH-58D and Fairchild Republic A-10.
The proposals from Representative Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), launch a months-long Congressional debate over the Fiscal 2015 budget for the US Department of Defense.
In February, Pentagon officials unveiled a proposed budget in a climate of relative austerity, due to sequestration-imposed budget cuts.
The Pentagon’s requested funding levels, if enacted, would allow the EA-18G assembly line to close at the end of next year, while divesting the OH-58D, A-10 and U-2S fleets.
As Boeing announced the 100th delivery of the EA-18G to the US Navy on 5 May, McKeon proposed to add $450 million to next year’s budget for acquiring five more of the radar jamming aircraft.
Those additional funds will extend the production slightly, but fall significantly short of Boeing’s hopes to extend production of the EA-18G for at least another full year at a production rate of nearly two aircraft per month.
The HASC version of the bill would preserve all requested funding for the Lockheed Martin F-35, allowing the DoD to buy 34 aircraft in Fiscal 2015.
McKeon’s proposal also would prevent the US Air Force from moving forward with plans to retire the U-2S fleet. Though McKeon notes he supports the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Block 30, his committee’s budget proposal also suggests that the unmanned aircraft system will not be ready to fully replace all of the U-2S fleet’s capabilities by 2016, as required by a previous law.
The HASC proposal allows other fleet retirements, however, including the A-10 and OH-58 armed scout. But McKeon’s committee would require the USAF to keep the A-10 fleet at the highest standard for stored aircraft. It would also require the army to submit a report detailing how the OH-58D cut will impact the rotorcraft industrial base.
The funding debate also now involves the unmanned carrier-launched surveillance and strike system (UCLASS), which is nearing a delayed competitive bidding stage. The HASC proposes to slash the programme’s funding by half to $200 million, as the release of the classified draft request for proposals in mid-April came nine months later than scheduled.