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HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE

HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE MOVES TOWARDS BILL APPROVAL

19 May 05. The Wall Street Journal reported that The House Armed Services Committee moved toward approving a more than $440bn defense-authorization bill for fiscal 2006 that is at odds with versions envisioned by the Senate and the Bush administration, particularly in the areas of Army modernization and space programs. While the final legislation is expected to include compromises between the conflicting House and Senate positions in many areas, yesterday’s committee action is likely to complicate Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s effort to reshape the U.S. military into a lighter, more-nimble fighting force better able to anticipate enemy moves and communicate among services.

From satellites and destroyers to infantry cannons and armored vehicles, the House committee opted for established programs over riskier, high-tech initiatives championed by the Pentagon. Some of the largest cuts are aimed at the Army’s Future Combat System, or FCS, a sweeping modernization effort led by Boeing Co. that is struggling with schedule changes and escalating cost projections.

But the House panel also sharply curtailed the Air Force’s two highest-priority satellite-development programs, cutting roughly half of the combined $1.1 billion request and requiring a whole new plan for both. House appropriators have in the past been especially critical of plans for so-called Space Radar surveillance satellites — designed to track ground movements of opposing forces in unprecedented detail — and later this year could move to effectively kill the program.

On the other hand, the House bill proposes to beef up the Navy’s shipbuilding budget in a move that would particularly benefit General
Dynamics Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. It seeks to authorize as many as three additional vessels in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, on top of four others requested by the Navy, and also aims to accelerate the start of construction of an aircraft carrier. Reflecting a deeper philosophical split that already has riled quite a few Senators and Pentagon brass, the panel’s Republican leadership has advocated language barring female soldiers from serving in transport, supply and medical units that could become engaged in direct combat. Proposed by Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, the committee’s chairman, the ban would put about 22,000 such military jobs off limits for females in uniform. Many Democrats on the panel have strongly opposed the change, arguing that the last-minute amendment “undercuts our ability to recruit the best and brightest young people.” House members sought to rein in spending on the most-advanced, technically challenging weapons under development — either through rigid, multiyear spending caps or by restructuring and delaying introduction of such systems. The move largely reflects the committee’s frustration in the face of chronic delays and spiraling costs that have hurt various other programs already in production.

As the House panel moved toward a final vote on the measure, leaders sought to plow a large chunk of the proposed cuts into more-traditional Army and Marine Corps programs, including helicopters, night-vision equipment and tactical vehicles.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, by contrast, late last week approved its $441.6bn spending blueprint for the Pentagon and the Energy Department’s nuclear programs. The Senate panel also recommended about $50bn in additional emergency supplemental funding to support military activities in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Overall, the Senate panel hewed closer to the Pentagon’s blueprint, approving the full $3.4bn requested for FCS and calling for smaller cuts to space programs. Both bills include a wide range of improved benefits, pay increases, housing allowances and special bonuses to help recruit and retain uniformed personnel. And both cut spending on the Pentagon’s planned Joint T

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