Aircraft programs won big in the FY19 defense appropriations bill, which was released by Congress in September. Lawmakers bolstered the major service aircraft accounts by a combined $2.5 billion in the bill, which includes an additional $1.2 billion for the Navy, $841.8 million for the Air Force, and $500.6 million for the Army.
Most of the major changes made to the aircraft coffers stemmed from the House Appropriations Committee markup, which originally called for an additional $2.4 billion in aircraft funding. The Senate markup added $1.7 billion for aircraft, but the Army would have actually lost nearly half a billion dollars under the Senate bill.
The conference bill increases F-35 procurement by 16 airframes, made up of eight F-35As, two F-35Bs, and six F-35Cs, matching the House markup. The F-35Cs comprise four aircraft for the Navy and two for the Marine Corps. The Senate bill would have provided an additional eight F-35Cs and four F-35Bs, with no additional F-35As for the Air Force. Outside of the F-35s, the Navy receives an additional six V-22s (of which two are attrition replacements) and two E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes.
The Air Force also receives an additional eight C-130Js, and funding to accelerate the fourth EC-37B aircraft; EC-37Bs are replacing the EC-130H Compass Call fleet. Lawmakers added $100 million for the O/A-X light attack aircraft, a compromise between the Senate bill, which requested $300 million, and the House bill, which included no O/A-X funding. The bill also adds one RQ-4 Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) aircraft as sought by the Senate.
The EC-37B is a G550 Conformal Airborne Early Warning (CAEW) Aircraft. Source: BAE Systems
Conversely, the final budget agreement does not include the $120 million that the Senate wanted to add to the MQ-9 Reaper program in support of the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System, a follow-on to the terminated E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) recapitalization program. However, the bill does add $30 million for ABMS in the Air Force’s research and development account, as well as $30 million to continue development of the ground moving target indicator radar from the JSTARS Recap.
The House Appropriations Committee made an effort to inject $623 million in its markup to save the JSTARS Recap, but the program’s fate has been sealed. The bill also cuts five MQ-9 Reapers from the Overseas Contingency Operations account, as well as one of the two aircraft requested to replace the OC-135B Open Skies fleet.
The appropriations bill contains $168 million for six AH-64E Apaches for the Army, well short of the $720 million included in the Senate markup. The Army also receives an additional eight UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters for the National Guard, four UH-72A Lakota light utility helicopters, and $60 million for an MQ-1 Gray Eagle life extension. The Senate had sought an additional 15 Black Hawks, but no additional funding for the UH-72A or MQ-1 life extension.