WASHINGTON, May 14 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday approved a 2016 defense policy bill that maps out a series of acquisition reforms and adds funding for big weapons programs like Boeing Co’s F/A-18 Super Hornets and Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 fighter jet.
Committee Chairman John McCain, an Arizona Republican, told reporters the committee trimmed $10 billion in “excess and unnecessary funding” from the Pentagon’s proposed budget, including $460 million removed from Air Force funding request for a new long-range strike bomber, to fund the extra weapons.
Most of the funds went to “unfunded priorities” identified by the military services, including $1.2 billion for the 12 Boeing jets requested by the U.S. Navy, and $1 billion for six Lockheed jets requested by the Marine Corps, the committee said.
McCain, a longtime critic of the $391 billion F-35 fighter jet program, the Pentagon’s costliest arms project, said the program was doing better and the Marine Corps planned to declare its F-35B jets ready for initial combat use in July.
The bill holds back $900 million of the Air Force’s $5.2 billion F-35 budget until the defense secretary certifies that F-35 A-model planes delivered in fiscal 2018 would have full combat capability with the 3F software currently planned.
The bill also added $355 million to maintain the Air Force’s fleet of A-10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft, an ongoing source of friction between Congress and the Air Force.
It also raised proposed funding for the Virginia-class submarine program submarines built by General Dynamics Corp and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc N> by $800 million to $6.1 billion, underscoring the importance of building two submarines a year from fiscal 2016 to fiscal 2020.
The committee limited funding aircraft carriers and coastal warships until the Navy met certain conditions.
The bill would also reform what it called the Pentagon’s “woefully inefficient” and “broken” acquisition system, calling it a clear and present danger to U.S. national security. It seeks to increase accountability, reach out to non-traditional suppliers, and streamline the process to save money.
Senator Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the panel, and three other Democrats voted against the bill, citing concerns about using overseas contingency operations funding, or OCO, to pay for non-war items. Reed called that move a “budget gimmick.”
Representative Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, voted against his committee’s bill for the same reason.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Diane Craft