Senate authorizers fund JCA in Air Force budget line, Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter

Senate defense authorizers are shifting all funding for the Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) program to the Air Force’s budget line.

The Army and the Air Force share the program, and the Army has its own budget request for the cargo plane meant to replace the aging C-23 Sherpa and C-12 Huron aircraft.

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The Army has expressed a more immediate need for the aircraft than the Air Force, and has allotted money left over following the cancellation of the Comanche helicopter program to it.

The decision, made as part of the Airland Armed Services subcommittee, is not yet final. Members of the full committee have expressed concern about the decision, and the panel’s chairman, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), whose state National Guard is slated to receive the JCA, allowed the lawmakers to debate the issue in the full committee markup, according to several sources. The markup is currently taking place behind closed doors.

Regardless of the committee’s final decision, putting the money into the Air Force’s budget line highlights authorizers’ focus on the roles and missions of the military services. The Air Force traditionally flies cargo for the other services.

While Senate authorizers included the funding in the Air Force’s pot, they did not place any restrictions on the program. The House-passed version of the 2008 defense authorization bill, by contrast, restricts funding for the JCA until the services provide Congress with several intra-theater airlift reports.

The JCA program has traveled a rocky road from the outset. Last year Senate and House authorizers disagreed on how to proceed with it, ultimately placing funding into the Air Force’s pot as part of conference negotiations.

Meanwhile, defense appropriators in both chambers funded the Army’s request last year, and supporters of the program hope they will do the same this year.

The joint JCA program office is expected to make a contract award for the Army’s aircraft in early June.

Two teams are vying for the contract. One consists of L-3 Communications, Alenia North America and Boeing and is offering the C-27J Spartan. The second team is made up of Raytheon and the European Aeronautics Defense Co., offering the C-295.

Senate authorizers also decided to fully fund the Army’s budget request for the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter program. The House had slashed the program’s funding amid contracting concerns. The Army decided to stick with contractor Bell rather than cancel the program because of delays and cost increases.

In another move that set Senate authorizers apart from their House counterparts, the panel opted not to up funding to buy more C-17s. The House approved $2.4 billion to buy 10 C-17s that were not in the Air Force’s request.