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US defence act budgets nearly $40bn for 413 new aircraft

President Donald Trump signed the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act into law on 13 August, budgeting $39.5 billion for the purchase of 413 new aircraft.

The largest appropriation for a single aircraft type is $7.6 billion to procure 77 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters; $4.2 billion to procure 48 F-35As for the US Air Force; $2.3 billion to procure 20 F-35Bs for the Marine Corps; and $1.1 billion to procure nine F-35Cs for the US Navy.

Overall, the amount appropriated for new aircraft fell 10.3% compared to the last fiscal year – a reflection of a windfall that Congress gave the Pentagon in the fiscal year 2018 budget to buy extra F-35 and F/A-18 Super Hornets and KC-46A tanker aircraft. However, defence funding in total rose 2.4% to $717 billion.

The funding act also gives Naval Air Systems Command multi-year contract authority for the F/A-18 Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft. Multi-year contract authority is a special provision granted by Congress that allows civil departments of the US government or the armed services the right to negotiate bulk discounts with vendors based on a guarantee of several years of orders.

The USN is set to order 119 warplanes, including 24 F/A-18 Super Hornets, 10 P-8A Poseidons, and eight CH-53K King Stallions.

The USAF was granted $2.4 billion to procure 15 KC-46 aerial refueling tankers. Boeing is scheduled to deliver its first of the new tankers to the service this October, more than 16 years after the aircraft was proposed as a replacement for the 1950s-era Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker.

The USAF also was authorised to spend $300 million to procure aircraft and associated long lead material for its Light Attack and Armed Reconnaissance programme. After more than a year of flight demonstrations, the service formally moved the light attack aircraft experiment into the acquisitions phase when it announced on 8 August its intention to award a production contract to Sierra Nevada Corporation or Textron Aviation in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2019.

The defence funding act also authorises $144.2 million for the A-10 wing replacement programme, some $65 million more than the Trump administration’s request.

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