Defense bill includes measures that affect Hill AFB

Defense bill includes measures that affect Hill AFB

The Senate has passed its defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2016 — and it includes several measures that affect Hill Air Force Base, including two late-passing amendments from a Utah lawmaker that address government waste.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 passed the Senate in Washington in mid-June with a 71-25 vote. The bill includes an amendment introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, that he says addresses the Department of Defense’s insufficient emphasis on sustainment maintenance of weapon systems during the acquisition process.

The amendment will require the Department of Defense to include sustainment and maintenance officials to be involved with the development and acquisition process for any new weapon systems.

Hatch said sustaining and maintaining equipment accounts for more than 80 percent of the lifetime cost of a weapon system, but comprehensive sustainment plans and the incorporation of designs that would reduce maintenance time and costs have not been given enough priority in the initial planning and design of many of today’s high-tech weapon systems, like the F-35.

“Our current sustainment efforts have proven far too uncoordinated and expensive due to a lack of proper planning on how to sustain this equipment over time,” Hatch said in a statement. “To drive down costs, the Department of Defense needs a comprehensive strategy to sustain these systems from the onset of acquisition far into the future, and these amendments help with that effort.”

Hatch said the amendment was made with Hill in mind, noting that much of the work done at the base is devoted to sustaining the Air Force’s fighter and Intercontinental Ballistic Missile fleets. 

A second Hatch amendment will require the DOD to perform a review on its software policy for weapons systems, like the F-35. Hatch says the DOD’s prioritization of software maintenance and sustainment have failed to keep pace.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report in April on F-35 software problems that found the testing and development of software associated with the F-35 poses a significant risk to the program, threatening to increase costs and delay future performance timelines.

In a press release, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., addressed “Pentagon waste” as one of the overarching themes of the entire defense bill. 

“We must champion the cause of defense reform, rigorously root out Pentagon waste, and invest in modernization and next-generation technologies to maintain our military technological advantage,” said McCain. “This legislation is an important first step towards accomplishing those goals.”

The bill passed through the House in May and now awaits President Barack Obama’s signature before becoming law. But getting the president’s name on the bill is no formality.

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill after Republicans voted to use temporary war funds as a way of eluding mandatory spending caps on defense funding next year.

The NDAA also includes a plan to scrutinize the privatization of military commissaries and $38.4 million in construction funding at Hill related to the pending arrival of the F-35. The appropriation will fund a hangar and flight simulators for the F-35A, as well as a set of storage facilities that will be used to house munitions and other critical items at the base.

As the Air Force’s first operational F-35 wing, Hill will receive 72 F-35s, which will begin arriving in September and continue to come to the base on a staggered basis, spread out through 2019.

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