Boeing Choppers the Army Wants to Cut Are Backed by House Panel

(Bloomberg) -- The House panel that controls defense spending rejected an Army proposal to stop production of Boeing Co.’s Chinook helicopters and shift the money into future vertical-lift programs in the service’s modernization plan.

Instead, the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, which is completing its proposed fiscal 2020 defense spending bill, added $28 million in advance procurement funds for continued production of the Chinook CH-47 Block II and directed the service to restore more than $900 million that would have been been shifted through 2024, according to a draft of the panel’s report obtained by Bloomberg Government.

The committee’s action represents a major victory for Chicago-based Boeing and a bipartisan group of lawmakers from Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, where the helicopter is built or where most workers live. The members had lobbied heavily against the Army’s proposal.

The full Appropriations Committee is scheduled to act on the defense spending measure on Tuesday. In a rebuke to the Army’s leaders, the subcommittee’s draft report said the service demonstrated a “lack of acquisition discipline” that was “of great concern to the committee” and “will have significant negative repercussions across multiple domains.”

The Army’s proposed budget called for saving $962 million through 2024 by cutting 28 of 68 previously planned Chinook heavy lift helicopters -- all 22 of an upgraded standard model plus six of a version for special operations. The panel directed the service to restore the five-year funding in the fiscal 2021 plan.

“The committee is concerned that the Army is now reducing its support for the CH-47” that “was determined to be necessary less than two years ago,” it said in the report.

Shifting Funds

The Chinook proposal is the most controversial part of the Army’s plan to shift as much as $31 billion through 2024 -- that would be saved from trimming 186 existing programs and lowering troop levels -- into new projects intended to position the service for a potential conventional conflict with Russia or China.

Even though the panel didn’t support cutting the Chinook in order to move resources to Army modernization, it added funds to the service’s top new research programs. That included adding $18 million to Army Secretary Mark Esper’s top priority research program -- Long Range Precision Fires Technology -- for a total of $92.3 million.

The service’s $93.6 million request for Future Vertical Lift Technology was increased by $3 million; Air and Missile Defense Technology was increased by $22 million to $72.7 million; the Next Generation Combat Vehicle technology request saw a $27 million increase to $246 million; $8.6 million was added to the $115 million Soldier Lethality technology request; and funding for Network C3I Technology was boosted by $18 million to $132.5 million.

On another win for Boeing, the House panel endorsed the Defense Department’s plan to buy the company’s latest version of its F-15, calling that "the fastest and most cost-effective" way to keep a fleet of needed but less-advanced fighter aircraft as the Pentagon ramps up production of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35.

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