The new defense bill provides money for 79 F-35s with Pratt & Whitney engines. Lockheed Martin photo
The F-35A stealth fighter, the Air Force version of the plane. Lockheed Martin photo

Washington – Congressional negotiators on Wednesday finished work on a final defense bill that would boost the number of F-35’s requested by President Donald Trump from 70 to 90 and Sikorsky-made Black Hawk helicopters from 45 to 53.

The defense bill also authorized billions of dollars for submarines and other weapons systems made in Connecticut and boosts military pay as well as the number of sailors, soldiers and marines.

The bill is expected to be approved with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. But, at a cost of nearly $700 billion, the defense authorization bill would bust current federal budget caps, and Congress has yet to reach a spending deal that would increase those spending caps.

The Pentagon, and the rest of the federal government, has been funded through a continuing resolution, or CR, since Sept. 30, the end of the 2017 federal fiscal year. That CR, which expires on Dec. 8,  limits spending to last year’s levels.

The Pentagon is concerned that key programs, especially new ones like the Columbia-class nuclear missile submarine that will be made by Electric Boat, will be delayed unless Congress approves a new budget  — and there’s a chance that may not happen until next year.

The defense authorization bill also includes $5.9 billion for the Virginia- class attack submarine program and authorizes the Navy to build three submarines a year in 2020, 2022 and 2023. Currently, the pace of Electric Boat’s production is two subs a year.

Besides boosting the number of F-35s — whose engines are made by Pratt & Whitney –and Black Hawks requested by the White House, the defense bill authorizes the construction of four ‘heavy lift” CH-53K helicopters.

It also authorizes $1.9 billion for Electric Boat to continue development and design work on the new Columbia-class sub.

“All in all, this is a good agreement for our military, for the hard-working men and women in Connecticut that support a strong national defense, and for our country,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, one of bill negotiators.

The Virginia-class attack submarine USS Texas. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ronald Gutridge.
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Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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