Aircraft Procurement Soars in FY19 Defense Bill

by Shaun McDougall, Military Markets AnalystForecast International.

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.

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.

As editor of International Military Markets, North America, Shaun has cultivated a deep understanding of the vast defense markets in the United States and Canada. Further, Shaun played an integral role in the development of Forecast International’s U.S. Defense Budget Forecast product, which offers an unprecedented level of insight into the Pentagon’s acquisition budget.

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