Drone by Northrop Shouldn't Be Retired, Lawmakers Says

The Pentagon’s plan to retire one version of Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC)’s Global Hawk drone would be blocked under a U.S. House panel’s defense legislation.

The House Armed Services subcommittee on air and land forces would require that the secretary of the Air Force take “all actions necessary” to keep the so-called Global Hawk Block 30 operating through 2014, according to a document the panel released today.

The Pentagon in February proposed truncating purchases of the Global Hawk variant and putting the drones it had already bought into storage. Air Force officials said those drones are more expensive to operate and have less sensing capacity than Lockheed Martin Corp.’s older U-2 spy planes. The Defense Department has projected savings of $2.5 billion over five years from truncating the Block 30 version of the Global Hawk.

The panel’s recommendations will be considered by the full committee next week as it becomes the first to act on the budget blueprint President Barack Obama and the Pentagon proposed in February. The drone proposal is an indication the Republican-led committee won’t hesitate to refashion a spending plan that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said should be passed without modifications if it’s to meet deficit-reduction requirements.

“We were presented a budget from the administration that takes a knife to the defense budget, while growing the size and scope of the federal government,” Representative Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, the full committee’s chairman, said in prepared remarks last night. “As defense continues to be crowded out of the picture, we have to be extraordinarily careful in choosing where we allocate the military’s funding.”

F-35 Plan Backed

The panel did endorse the Pentagon’s request to buy 29 Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) F-35 stealth jets. The Pentagon requested $9.1 billion for its most expensive program, including $6.1 billion for procurement.

As of February, when Panetta presented the plan to cut $487 billion from previously planned defense spending over 10 years, the Air Force had 18 Global Hawk Block 30s on contract. The House panel’s proposal would keep those drones flying until the end of 2014.

The Air Force spent $3.4 billion on the development and procurement of the 18 aircraft, according to information provided by Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Cassidy.

Lawmakers have questioned the proposal to retire the Block 30 drone, pointing out that in June 2011 the Pentagon certified it as “essential to national security” after assessing cost overruns.

“None of the funds authorized” for the budget “may be expended to retire, prepare to retire or place in storage” the aircraft, the panel said in the document today.

Abrams, Bradley Vehicles

McKeon, a California Republican, said in the speech to the Hamilton Society in Washington that he also will seek to increase funding for General Dynamics Corp. (GD)’s Abrams tank and BAE Systems Plc (BAESY)’s Bradley Fighting Vehicle to avoid a proposed temporary shutdown of production lines.

McKeon vowed to slow troop reductions, which he said would mean an increase in deployments. Obama is planning to cut the number of U.S. military forces by about 120,000 by 2017. McKeon also said he would eliminate user fees proposed by the administration for the military’s health-care system.

McKeon’s panel also will try to scale back a Navy plan to retire nine guided missile cruisers and authorize the purchase of 10 additional destroyers, instead of nine.

Virginia-Class Submarines

The Armed Services Committee’s seapower subcommittee indicated that it plans to restore funding for a second Virginia-class submarine that the Navy struck from fiscal 2014 plans. The panel recommended adding a down payment, or “advance procurement,” in the fiscal 2013 budget, according to documents released yesterday.

The Navy originally planned to buy two Virginia-class submarines a year, with the work split between Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. (HII) of Newport News, Virginia, and General Dynamics’s Groton, Connecticut-based Electric Boat unit. Instead, the Pentagon now proposes buying one boat in fiscal 2014 and delaying another until fiscal 2018.

Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system also stands to gain as much as $680 million in U.S. aid under a proposal in the armed services panel. A subcommittee is seeking the funding from 2012 to 2015 for the system built by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., according to documents released yesterday.

To contact the reporters on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at rtiron@bloomberg.net; Tony Capaccio in Washington at acapaccio@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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