By Lee Hudson
The Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget are asking Congress for permission to use wartime funding to replace six AV-8B Harriers lost in Afghanistan with new F-35B Joint Strike Fighters, according to a congressional source and a reprogramming request obtained by InsideDefense.com.
The reprogramming request, signed Sept. 8 by Pentagon Comptroller Michael McCord, includes $852 million for six F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing variants to replace the AV-8B Harriers that were destroyed during a terrorist attack in September 2012 at Forward Operating Base Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. The production line for the McDonnell-Douglas-built AV-8B is closed. The F-35B is the replacement aircraft.
A congressional source said the reprogramming request indicates the Obama administration has given up on limiting wartime funding — contained in the Pentagon’s Overseas Contingency Operations account — to actual combat-related costs and sees the account as a sequester relief valve.
“These battle losses resulted in the early stand down of one aircraft squadron and exacerbated the shortfall in the Marine Corps legacy Tactical Aircraft Fleet,” the request reads. “This procurement will provide increased mission assurance for operational JSF STOVL F-35B squadrons.”
The Marines in their fiscal year 2015 wartime funding request asked Congress to buy six F-35Bs in response to losing the Harriers in Afghanistan. In response to a question from Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) during a March 25 House Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos confirmed the service included money in its Overseas Contingency Operations request to replace those jets.
“When we lost the six airplanes in the attack at Bastion Airfield about a year-and-a-half ago, there were six Harriers completely destroyed on the line,” Amos told the subcommittee.
The Sept. 14, 2012 incident involved 15 insurgents who carried out what U.S. Forces in Afghanistan called “a well-coordinated attack against the airfield on Camp Bastion.”
In the same reprogramming request, the Pentagon proposes shifting $247.5 million for two Air Force F-35A conventional-takeoff-and-landing variants to replace two F-15 aircraft that were lost in combat.
Using wartime funding for equipment that is not yet operational, such as the JSF, is unprecedented. The Air Force in FY-08 and FY-11 sought OCO funding to buy additional F-35s to replace F-16s taken out of service as combat losses. Lawmakers rejected the Air Force’s request both times. In its mark of the Pentagon’s 2008 request, the House Armed Services Committee instead suggested the Air Force delay the planned retirement of one F-16 to replace its combat loss.