Washington – The Pentagon has given Congress wish lists totaling more than $30 billion in additional weaponry and personnel that would substantially boost the number of F-35s and Sikorsky helicopters purchased this year.
Following a custom that was only halted when former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was in office, each of the military services has asked Congress to fund additional requests, called “unfunded priorities,” that were not included in the 2018 budget.
President Donald Trump boosted the defense budget by $30 billion to $603 billion. But the U.S. Army has asked for $12.7 billion more. The Air Force requested an additional $10.7 billion for unfunded priorities, the Navy $5.3 billion and the Marine Corps $3.2 billion.
Lockheed Martin’s F-35, whose engine is built by Pratt & Whitney, is a top item on some of these wish lists.
The Air Force has asked for 14 additional F-35s, the Navy has asked for four more and the Marines for six. That’s on top of the 70 F-35 Joint Strike fighters that were requested in the Trump budget.
Also on the Marine Corps’ list are two Sikorsky CH-53K Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopters, at a cost of $287.7 million.
The Army has asked for nearly $5 billion to buy or upgrade 24 helicopters, including the purchase of three additional Black Hawk utility helicopters.
These lists are submitted to Congress each year after the annual White House budget request and are intended to be considered by lawmakers as they develop the annual defense bills.
“From our prospective, if these were real priorities, they would be included in the budget,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog. “To my knowledge, the military is the only one who is allowed to do anything like this.”
Although he said the Pentagon received “a healthy chunk of change” in the Trump budget, Ellis said lawmakers may add some of the items on the unfunded priorities lists to a final defense budget.
“Some will slip through,” he said.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said that while the Trump budget fully funded the Virginia-class and Columbia-class submarine programs, the Navy’s budget was not adequate to the service’s needs, funding fewer ships than President Obama’s budgets.
Courtney said the Pentagon’s wish lists “may be more relevant this year than other years” because the Trump administration did not have key Pentagon officials in place when the Office of Management and Budget put together the 2018 budget.
“They were just kind of winging it,” he said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he would advocate for the two additional CH-53K “King Stallion” Marine Corps helicopters on the Marines’ unfunded request list. That would bring the total of CH-53Ks requested this year from four to six.
Sikorsky has also recently won a $55 million federal contract from the U.S. Navy to begin purchasing materials to prepare for production of the first CH-53K helicopters.
Ellis cautioned, however, that unless the caps on Pentagon spending are lifted, there will have to be cuts in other defense programs to procure money for items on the unfunded priorities lists.