Senate Appropriators Back F-15EX, Add Space Initiatives

On Sept. 10, 2019, members of the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee endorsed USAF's plan to buy Boeing's F-15EX, which is shown here in a Boeing artist rendering. Boeing illustration.

Members of the Senate’s defense appropriations subcommittee on Sept. 10 endorsed the Air Force’s plan to buy the F-15EX from Boeing, signaling authorizers and appropriators in the House and Senate will all back the idea in the final defense policy and spending bills.

The panel’s version of the 2020 defense spending bill includes nearly $1 billion for eight of the new fighter jets, two of which will be used as test aircraft, according to a summary of the bill. Earlier this year, the Senate and House Armed Services committees as well as the House Appropriations Committee included eight F-15EXs in their own legislation, and lawmakers in both chambers must now agree on how much money to offer the program.

Senate appropriators also offer nearly $1.9 billion to plus up the Pentagon’s request for F-35s, bringing total Joint Strike Fighter procurement to 96 airframes in 2020. That includes an extra 12 F-35As for the Air Force and 60 overall for the service. The summary also notes an additional $156 million to jumpstart F-35A procurement in fiscal 2021.

On space, the subcommittee endorsed creation of a Space Force and fully funded the $1.2 billion National Security Space Launch program. The bill “includes a general provision to protect the Air Force launch development and launch service procurement schedules,” the summary states. Senate authorizers similarly blocked changes to NSSL’s second procurement phase amid complaints from industry.

Lawmakers also created a new research spending line for “Tactically Responsive Launch,” a program intended “to ensure the Air Force devotes adequate resources to venture-class launch services,” according to the summary.

NASA sent its first satellites of the venture-class program into space in December 2018. The initiative “aims to provide a dedicated launch capability for smaller payloads such as cubesats on smaller rockets,” the agency said. The Air Force declined to comment on pending legislation.

The Air Force’s major nuclear programs fared well despite an ongoing congressional feud about which weapons to fund: The Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent would receive an extra $65 million on top of the original $570.4 request, and the Long-Range Standoff Weapon would get full funding as well. The B-21 bomber would receive nearly the full request at $2.9 billion.

Topline spending covers about $695 billion for the Pentagon, or $20.5 billion more than was enacted in fiscal 2019. That includes $622.5 billion in the base budget and $70.7 billion for the overseas contingency operations account, according to the committee’s Republican majority.

If enacted, the legislation would provide $1.7 billion to bases like Tyndall AFB, Fla., and Offutt AFB, Neb., for emergency disaster aid following Hurricanes Michael and Florence as well as flooding and earthquakes that occurred in fiscal 2019.

According to the summary, the bill also includes:

  • $2.1 billion to buy 12 KC-46 tankers, $700 million and three aircraft fewer than Senate authorizers offered, as well as an additional $35 million for development;
  • A $536 million plus-up for the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared program;
  • $210 million to buy six light-attack aircraft;
  • Full funding for the new Air Force One;
  • $17.6 billion to buy missiles and ammunition;
  • Backing of directed-energy and hypersonics research;
  • An additional $91 million for weapon system sustainment; and
  • Funding for flying hours.

The subcommittee sent its bill to the full panel on Sept. 10, and the Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up the legislation Sept. 12.