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House passes spending bill that adds 10 C-17s, restores F-35 alternate engine

The US House of Representatives has passed a $636.4 billion defence spending bill that rescues the F-35 alternate engine and Boeing C-17 from termination threats, plus restores funding for the Boeing F/A-18E/F, RQ-4 Global Hawk and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye.

As expected, lawmakers agreed with the Obama Administration to allow the Lockheed Martin F-22 to cease production in early 2012, leaving the US Air Force with an active inventory of 186 fighters.

The Fiscal 2010 spending bill also cancels production of the Lockheed VH-71 presidential helicopter, although it provides $44.8 million more funding than the administration requested on research to recoup technology developed under the programme.

Obama personally threatened to veto the bill if Congress inserted funds for the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 engine in a way that "significantly disrupts" the F-35 programme. The final version of the bill includes $465 million for the F136, and fully funds the administration's request to buy 30 F-35s in Fiscal 2010.

The veto threat appeared to overcome an attempt to finance the alternate engine at the expense of funding for production aircraft. A previous version of the bill appeared to fund the F136 by cutting F-35 aircraft orders to 28.

Boeing also will receive $2.5 billion in Fiscal 2010 to build 10 more C-17s, extending production through mid-2012 in the absence of further export sales. The bill raises the number of C-17s inserted into the budget since 2007 by Congress to 43, and increases the overall USAF fleet to 223 aircraft.

The House also restored about $500 million to double the order of F/A-18E/Fs to 18 next year, even though the navy requested $1 billion to build only nine. The bill also spends $1.6 billion for Boeing to deliver 22 EA-18G Growlers.

Northrop also achieved two key victories. In August, a Northrop executive described proposed cuts to the RQ-4 as potentially disastrous, but the final bill restores full funding for the programme. Moreover, Congress also will spend $142 million extra to buy a third E-2D in next year's production lot, overturning a previous decision to purchase only two.

The bill can become law only after it is signed by President Barack Obama.

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