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House Passes $512.9 Billion Military Authorization Bill, Rejects Missile Defense Cuts

By | May 15, 2006

      By George Cahlink

      The House overwhelmingly passed a more than half a trillion-dollar defense authorization bill for 2007, after resisting an attempt to slash spending on some missile defense programs.

      Lawmakers approved, 396-31, the $512.9 billion bill that authorizes Pentagon spending for the coming fiscal year and makes scores of policy recommendations. The House bill still must be reconciled with the Senate’s version, which senators may not vote on until after Memorial Day.

      The House bill amounts to a 2.7 percent increase over the Pentagon’s budget request, plus an additional $50 billion for fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the legislation backed most Pentagon requests for weapons spending, lawmakers opted to make changes to several key military modernization programs.

      The House debated about three dozen amendments before adopting the bill.

      Lawmakers rejected a proposal that would have cut missile defense spending by about half from $9.3 billion to $4.7 billion. Backers argued the money should not be spent because of technical problems facing the missile program, while opponents said cutting missile defense could make the U.S. troops overseas and allied nations vulnerable to ballistic missile attacks.

      To be sure, some missile defense spending priorities were rearranged in the bill. Lawmakers cut $100 million from the Northrop Grumman [NOC] Kinetic Energy Interceptor program and $55 million for a third ground-based missile defense site, while adding $40 million for Aegis sea-based missile defense and $20 million for additional ground-based midcourse defense system testing.

      Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), a member of the House Intelligence panel who proposed the $4.6 billion spending cut, told Defense Daily the spending was not justified because several studies have shown the missile defense system does not work. He also criticized the Pentagon’s strategy of fielding initial missile defense capabilities to provide a limited defense and then improve them as technology matures.

      “The silliest idea I’ve heard is that we should deploy it to see if works,” Holt added.

      House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) countered that cutting missile defense spending by half would not simply slow down the program, but halt efforts to build a missile shield. Other lawmakers argued the program had recent successes, among them 6 of 7 successful launches and hits of the Aegis sea-based missile system.

      Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.) successfully won support for requiring the Pentagon to conduct a study of its requirements for air mobility aircraft. She said the Pentagon had not conducted a requirements review since before the 9/11 attacks and since then, transport aircraft, particularly the C-17 aircraft, have seen a sharp increase in flying hours.

      Rep. James Saxton (R-N.J.), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, also backed the review to come up with a definite requirement for how many C-17s the military needs. He said senior military leaders had cited C-17 requirements ranging from 187 to 222 aircraft.

      Several Oregon lawmakers won support for a proposal that would require the Army Secretary to report to Congress on a schedule and cost for replacing and repairing Boeing [BA] CH-47 cargo helicopters being worn out in Iraq and Afghanistan.

      The House also backed an amendment that would prevent contractors from losing their security clearances due to a backlog in processing them.

      The Army’s $3.9 billion Future Combat System request was cut due to schedule and technical delays.

      Lawmakers also included language next year that would require the Pentagon to make a ‘go-no go’ decision on whether the FCS should continue to be developed.

      Lawmakers largely backed the Navy’s new shipbuilding plan, but also added $400 million for building two Virginia-class submarines by 2009. They also added $200 million to accelerate DDG modernization and added $66.8 billion to buy a maritime prepositioning ship now being leased.

      Air Force plans to incrementally build the Lockheed Martin [LMT]

      F-22 fighter aircraft were scrapped as was the service’s attempt to save money by not building a backup engine for the company’s Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The bill increased the F-22’s $1 billion budget by $1.4 billion to buy 20 aircraft and provided $400 million for developing the backup JSF engine.

      Lawmakers also provided $300 million to buy three additional C-17s and cut spending to shut down the C-17 production line in 2008. The House also trimmed the $5.3 billion request for JSF by $241 million, saying some procurement could be delayed because of developmental delays.

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