A year after the House Armed Services Committee passed its fiscal 2020 defense policy bill in an unusually partisan fashion, the panel appears to be taking a step back from major fireworks and aerospace programmatic shifts in its 2021 legislation.
The full committee’s version of the fiscal 2021 defense authorization bill, first obtained by Politico, remains largely in line with the Air Force’s wish list. But lawmakers on the Democratic-run committee stopped short of offering additional F-35As, unlike their Senate counterparts, and want to block the Air Force from buying three of its planned 15 KC-46 tankers.
Members also plan to block the abrupt end of MQ-9 Reaper production, which the Air Force wants to do this year. Among the Air Force’s research and development priorities, HASC would cut $85.5 million from the Advanced Battle Management System for unjustified spending, but add $30 million for affordable, disposable drones.
Notably, the panel wants to create a deputy assistant secretary for sustainment position within the Army, Navy, and Air Force, who would each be appointed by each service’s Secretary.
In the Air Force, that official would oversee sustainment cost estimates, review sustainment plans over the life of a particular weapon system, suggest cost-effective sustainment strategies to the service’s acquisition boss, and “inform the Secretary of the Air Force when assumptions made in the development of a sustainment baseline cost estimate are no longer valid, or when new opportunities arise to reduce costs or improve efficiency,” according to the bill.
The Air Force is trying to move toward faster, smarter maintenance practices that cut costs by using algorithms to tell the service when aircraft parts are ready to break. It created a Rapid Sustainment Office that plans to triple the number of aircraft using predictive maintenance algorithms in 2020, Air Force Magazine previously reported.
By the end of September, the RSO wants to use predictive maintenance for the B-1, KC-135, C-5, C-130, F-15, B-52, C-17, AC-130J, MC-130J, CV-22, HH-60, RC-135, MQ-9, F-16, RQ-4, A-10, and Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile.
The bill and its accompanying report also:
- Creates the position of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space and Strategic Deterrence Policy to supervise the Pentagon’s work on space, nuclear deterrence, and missile defense;
- Requires the Department of the Air Force to pick two rocket providers under the National Security Space Launch program, certify that previously flown rockets are reusable, and begin investing early in future launch technologies;
- Bans the Air Force from retiring the A-10 in fiscal 2021, unless a particular airframe is damaged beyond repair;
- Calls for quarterly briefings on joint all-domain command and control from the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Pentagon chief information officer;
- Calls for quarterly briefings from the Air Force Secretary on how the service is pursuing highly sought technologies like hypersonic weapons;
- Pushes the Air Force to develop and field a new wide-area motion imagery system to improve its intelligence collection.
Under the HASC spending plan, which still needs to be partnered with an appropriations bill, the Air Force received $17.4 billion for aircraft procurement, a $464 million cut; $2.4 billion for missiles and $596.3 million for ammunition, which the service wanted; and $23.6 billion for other communications and support equipment, a $72 million drop. The Space Force also received $2.4 billion for procurement, $38 million less than requested.
For research and development, the Air Force is authorized to spend $37.1 billion, more than $300 million short of the request because of cuts to fighter and bomber upgrades. Space Force research saw a slight bump up to $10.4 billion, largely through an add to the National Security Space Launch program.
Active-duty operations and maintenance spending in the base budget would hit $34.4 billion for the Air Force and $2.5 billion for the Space Force, essentially what the services requested.
The committee’s blueprint offers the Air Force less money in many areas than the Senate Armed Services Committee did, while avoiding major cuts. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), ranking member on the House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee, noted that the HASC topline this year is lower than Republicans might like, but that it is more likely to avoid a budget impasse and continuing resolution.
HASC is likely to pass the bill July 1, after which it will head to the House floor for the chamber’s consideration. The House and Senate will then have to reconcile the differences between their two bills. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved its version of the 2021 spending plan on June 24.