WASHINGTON: The Air Force came out smelling of roses in the 2020 minibus appropriations bill agreed to by the House and Senate yesterday, and passed by the House today.
Most of the service’s major programs were fully funded, and in some cases, were plumped up. But it didn’t win every battle for funding. Congressional appropriators almost cut in half funding for a signature element of the policy battle this year, the Space Force. The service’s request for $72.4 million to stand it up as a sixth branch of the US military got whacked to only $40 million. The NDAA did authorize the new force, which will be organized underneath the Air Force in a manner similar to how the Marine Corps is organized under the Navy.
According to a Senate Appropriations Committee summary, the bill:
- “Provides $3.0 billion for the B-21 bomber program and $960 million for Next Generation Air Dominance” research, testing, development, and evaluation (RDT&E). As we reported last week, the National Defense Authorization Act, passed by the Senate today and now headed to the White House for signature, approved full funding for the B-21 and the NGAD. NGAD is the service’s effort to build a sixth-generation fighter that the service intends to acquire via what acquisition czar Will Roper calls the Digital Century Series, under which new aircraft variants would be rolled out every few years;
- “Supports Air Force nuclear modernization by fully funding and providing an $557 million for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program and $713 million for the Long Range Standoff Weapon program;”
- “Fully funds and provides an additional $34 million for directed energy and hypersonic weapons prototyping programs.” The service’s request was for $676 million;
- “Provides an additional $75 million for Next Generation OPIR.” The Air Force asked for $1.4 billion (almost double last year’s funding level) for RTD&E on the Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next-Gen OPIR) constellation of five satellites. The program is being designed to replace the (long troubled but highly effective) Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS);
- Fully funds the National Security Space Launch request for $432 million in RTD&E, and $1.2 billion in procurement. As Breaking D readers know, the NSSL program has been controversial, facing down a bid protester by one of the competitors (Blue Origin) and a lawsuit by another (SpaceX). Under the program, four launch providers — Northrop Grumman, United Launch Alliance (ULA), SpaceX, and Blue Origin — are vying for two contracts (under a 60/40 split) that will lock up all national security launches through 2027, representing billions.
- “Creates a new line for Tactically Responsive Launch to ensure the Air Force devotes adequate resources to venture class launch services.” That new budget line was included in the original Senate version of the bill. The appropriators put $19 million into the new line.
Further, congressional appropriators gave the Air Force an additional $1.87 billion for 20 additional F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft and associated spare parts, including 14 F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variants. It also added six F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing variants, for a total of 98 F-35s. Interestingly, the NDAA authorized only 94 total F-35 fighters, including only 12 F-35As.