July 30, 2013
The Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee approved a $594.4 billion bill to fund the Pentagon and its wartime operations in fiscal 2014 that guts the administration’s request to purchase 20 Embraer Super Tucanos for the Afghan Air Force under the Light Air Support (LAS) program.
The draft of the defense spending bill would slice $416.8 million for LAS and also remove all funding for the purchase of Mi-17 helicopters for Afghanistan.
The decision follows the release in June of a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (Sigar) that called into question the Afghan forces’ ability to operate its current fleet of Mi-17 helicopters and PC-12 aircraft. With that in mind, and following the purchase of 20 Super Tucanos in fiscal 2013, the committee put the brakes on expanding the fleet of additional light attack aircraft, according to a Senate aide.
An industry official confirmed the Senate’s move, saying that although the Sigar report focused on a narcotics unit, the issues remain the same for the Afghan air force. In Afghanistan, pilots are difficult to train, as are aircraft logistics and support personnel. And retention of pilots also is a challenge. “If you’re an English speaker who can fly, you’re a pretty hot commodity,” he says.
Other congressional committees did not contain such an explicit reduction in funding for the accounts, but those bills were drafted before the release of the Sigar report.
The Senate panel’s draft legislation provides $77.8 billion for war spending; $2.9 billion below the administration’s request, according to the subcommittee. The full Senate Appropriations Committee will meet to debate the bill Aug. 1.
Procurement fared well generally; the bill provides an increase of $215 million above what the administration requested. It fully funds the fiscal 2014 purchase of 29 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters but limits money for development of the fifth-generation fighter.
It fulfills the Pentagon’s request for Army CH-47 Chinooks, AH-64 Apache helicopters, the Air Force’s C-130J Hercules, and the Navy’s P-8 Poseidon, E-2D Hawkeye and MV-22 Ospreys.
Research accounts did not do as well, suffering a $1.7 billion reduction.