Pentagon Bid to Retire Aging Aircraft Rejected in House

The U.S. House passed a $601 billion defense authorization bill that rejects Pentagon plans to retire Cold War-era planes and rebuffs efforts to find savings in military benefits and base closings.

By a vote of 325-98, lawmakers took the first step toward setting defense policy and spending for the fiscal year that begins Oct.1.

The legislation “guards against achieving false short-term savings at the expense of vital long-term strategic capabilities,” Republican Representative Howard “Buck” McKeon of California, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said during floor debate this week.

The White House has threatened a possible veto because the measure would impede the Defense Department’s cost-cutting proposals and prevent the closing of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Weeks of negotiation lie ahead. The Senate has yet to vote on its version of the bill, which its Armed Services Committee may approve later today. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has vowed to press lawmakers to restore his initiatives to cut costs in a time of declining defense budgets, according to his spokesman.

The House-passed measure would save the A-10, a 1970s-era combat plane known as the Warthog, from Pentagon plans for elimination for at least a year. In a time of the budget cuts, the Air Force projected savings of $4.2 billion over five years from retiring all 238 A-10s.

U-2 Spy Plane

The bill also would bar the military from doing anything to prepare for retirement of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s U-2 spy plane, as the Pentagon intends to do in 2016. The legislation would ask the Defense Department to report to Congress by Feb. 16 on ways to mitigate decreased capabilities for high-altitude reconnaissance and surveillance resulting from the U-2’s elimination.

The legislation would authorize $496 billion in discretionary Defense Department spending in fiscal 2015 plus $79.4 billion for war operations.

In addition, the measure would authorize $7.9 billion in mandatory spending and $17.9 billion for national security programs under the Department of Energy.

As a step to ensure that the Navy keeps a fleet of 11 aircraft carriers, the bill would allot $483.6 million for the refueling and overhaul of CVN 73, the USS George Washington aircraft carrier for which the Pentagon requested no money.

The Defense Department has said it may have to call off the Washington’s refurbishing if the budget-cutting process known as sequestration returns in full in fiscal 2016.

Guided-Missile Cruisers

The bill also would bar the Pentagon from mothballing the U.S. Navy’s guided-missile cruisers and amphibious landing dock ships.

The Navy wants to sideline 11 Ticonderoga-class cruisers, at a projected savings of about $4 billion over five years, with plans to upgrade the ships in the future.

Further complicating the Pentagon’s cost-savings plans, the bill would reject proposals to have military members pay more out-of-pocket for off-base housing and to increase health-care expenses for military families and retirees. It also would prohibit another round of domestic base closings.

The House measure would halt an Army plan to transfer Apache attack helicopters from the National Guard to the regular Army. The Army projects it would save about $12 billion by shifting about 100 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to the Guard and using the Apaches to replace OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters for Army combat missions.

Governors from all 50 states sent a letter to President Barack Obama earlier this year opposing the plan.

Russia, Ukraine

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and instability in Ukraine were the topic of several changes made to the bill on the House floor.

By a vote of 233-191, the House adopted an amendment by Colorado Republican Doug Lamborn that would limit Pentagon funds from being spent in fiscal 2015 on the implementation of the New START treaty until certification that Russia respects Ukraine sovereignty. The treaty is meant to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and launches by the U.S. and Russia.

The Connecticut and Texas delegations scored a victory with an amendment that would prohibit the Department of Defense from entering into a contract or subcontract with Russian arms dealer Rosoboronexport until Russian troops are out of Crimea and Russia isn’t seen as actively destabilizing Ukraine.

Russian Helicopters

The company also has been transferring weapons to Syria. The amendment represents a continuing fight as lawmakers have tried to stop the Pentagon from buying Russian helicopters U.S. officials say are needed by Afghanistan’s military.

Black Hawk helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky, a unit of Hartford, Connecticut-based United Technologies Corp., and Bell Helicopter, a Hurst, Texas-based unit of Textron Inc., have stakes in the issue.

Representative Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, didn’t get enough votes to pass his amendment that offered a framework for closing Guantanamo Bay by December 31, 2016.

Instead, the bill includes an amendment by Florida Republican Representative Dennis Ross that would prohibit any money from being spent for building or modernizing recreational facilities at Guantanamo.

The bill is H.R. 4435.

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