Lawmakers reject Pentagon using war funds on F-35s, Apaches

Tony Capaccio (c) 2014, Bloomberg News.

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers have rejected the Pentagon’s request to shift as much as $1.5 billion in war spending to buy eight new Lockheed Martin F-35 jets and 21 additional Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopters.

The Defense Department asked for the additional jets and helicopters in a Sept. 8 request for permission to shift, or reprogram, about $2 billion in its war operations budget, partly to pay for expanded operations against Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria.

The move to include new aircraft was rejected by the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee, one of four spending and authorization panels in the House and Senate that must approve each item in such requests.

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Panel members are concerned that the overseas contingency funds — provided separately from the annual defense budget to pay for war operations — are being used to “backfill budgetary shortfalls in acquisition programs that have only tenuous links to the fight in Afghanistan and other current operations,” Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, the subcommittee’s chairman, said in a Sept. 19 letter to Pentagon Comptroller Michael McCord.

The Pentagon sought permission to spend $880 million to buy six Lockheed F-35B fighter jets and spares for the Marine Corps to replace six older Marine AV-8B Harriers destroyed during a September 2012 Taliban attack on Forward Operating Base Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.

That was in addition to the six aircraft and $1.1 billion Congress approved in this year’s base defense budget for the F-35B from Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed, the most complex model in the Pentagon’s costliest weapons program.

The Pentagon also sought to shift $256 million to buy two Air Force versions of the F-35 and spare parts meant to replace to two Boeing F-15 fighter jets lost in combat operations.

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The request was in addition to the $2.8 billion Congress approved this year for 19 Air Force F-35 models.

An additional $404 million would have been transferred to buy 21 Apache helicopters from Chicago-based Boeing to replace 21 Kiowa Warrior aircraft lost in battle. The shifted money would help the Army accelerate its chopper purchases, according to the document.

Congress already has approved $608 million for 42 Apaches this year.

Although the F-35 and Apache requests are “characterized as battle-loss replacements, they essentially would be used to accelerate aircraft replacement programs that have already been programmed in” the Navy and Air Force five-year defense plans, Frelinghuysen wrote. The long-range plans are submitted with the Defense Department’s regular annual budget.

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The Pentagon’s intended shift of funds for the aircraft was contrary to past Office of Management and Budget policy guidance, he said.

Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday that officials will continue “to work with Congress to finalize our reprogramming request.” Warren said he had no comment on the panel’s rejection of the F-35 and Apache requests.