U.S. Army AH-64E Apache pilots prepare to depart for a mission.
If not showered in funding, military rotorcraft procurement at least is funded at levels requested by the Defense Department in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s (SASC) version of the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The SASC markup and that of all its subcommittees – except for the subcommittee on personnel – were held in closed session. An 11-page outline of the full committee mark published May 24 shows the Senate bill, mirroring its House counterpart, fully funds Army and Navy rotorcraft procurement for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
Included in the 117 total naval aviation aircraft authorized in the bill are eight Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopters for the Marine Corps and seven Bell-Boeing MV-22/CMV-22 Osprey tiltrotors.
Also included in the Navy’s helicopter procurement authorization are six Sikorsky VH-92A Presidential Helicopters. The VH-92 is scheduled to replace the VH-3D “Marine One” and VH-60N support helicopters that transport the president and his retinue.
For the Army, SASC fully funds $3.8 billion the service requested for aircraft procurement. That figure includes $1.04 billion for 60 Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, of which 48 are remanufactured and 12 are new build.
Another $1 billion is approved for purchasing 50 UH-60M Black Hawks, the majority of which are slated for the Army National Guard.
The bill authorizes $124 million to procure seven Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters.
Those procurement numbers are relatively flat for the Army in fiscal 2019 compared with the current year, but the bill represents the third year in a row that aviation has been cut to pay bills for other modernization priorities.
From $4.9 billion in the enacted 2017 budget, spending on new and remanufactured aircraft fell to $4.2 billion in the Army’s fiscal 2018 budget request and again to $3.8 billion in the fiscal 2019 spending plan.
The $716-billion bill, which the SASC approved by a 25-2 vote on May 24, now heads to the full Senate for its consideration. The full House passed its version of the bill the same day by a 351-66 vote, wrapping up three days of floor debate.
Included in the House version of the bill is a measure that would create an independent National Commission on Military Aviation Safety tasked with reviewing military aviation mishaps for the past five years, compare the accident rate to historic averages, attempt to find causes for the accidents and make recommendations on how to improve aviation safety.