Increasing the Increase

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee takes the services’ unfunded requirements lists seriously and has included several items from those lists in the committee’s markup of the Fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, he told reporters Thursday. Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said he asks the services to rank items that were not funded in the Pentagon budget request but that they believe they need. This year’s Air Force list included five F-35As deferred in the budget request and increasing the Active Duty force to 321,000, among other things. That end strength plus-up is included in the committee’s mark in part because the Air Force “believes that they are short of maintainers for aircraft,” but it takes time to train them, Thornberry said. “My eyes are really being opened to importance of these end strength issues, and how they affect readiness,” as well as how procurement affects readiness, he said. Thornberry noted that the helicopters that protect missile fields have gotten very old, and though there are “great maintainers who can keep those aircraft flying,” eventually “even Superman can’t keep 40-year-old helicopters flying. The only answer is to get a new helicopter.” The HASC markup also calls for an assessment of how much it would cost to resume F-22 production, because, Thornberry said, he and other members of Congress are asked about the issue at town halls all the time. “I don’t know that it is the answer,” he said, but it made sense to look into it.