The U.S. Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act with a 85-13 vote.
The bill included a provision from Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., requiring that the Department of Defense certify any security shortfalls of the UH-1N helicopter currently used to support nuclear security at missile bases, including Malmstrom Air Force Base.
The provision also requires DOD to report to Congress how it will mitigate those shortfalls with outside resources until the acquisition process for new helicopters is complete.
The Air Force announced in May that it would use a normal acquisition process to replace the Hueys flown at missile bases.
Based on a request from the U.S. Strategic Command commander, the Air Force proposed an immediate reprogramming action, according to the Air Force, but after a thorough review, the Air Force “remains committed to a competitive acquisition approach,” as reflected in the budget plan.
“The Air Force has taken multiple steps to mitigate shortfalls in mission requirements to enhance readiness and security of the nation’s nuclear deterrent,” the Air Force said in May.
In May, Daines asked the Air Force to consider using Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopters to augment the Hueys at Malmstrom.
The House passed the NDAA in May by with a 277-147 vote.
Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., also included a Huey provision that will withhold 25 percent of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics’ travel expenses until DOD certifies that the Huey replacement acquisition process will be under contract by fiscal year 2018.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., also included a provision to push the Air Force to have replacement helicopters at Malmstrom before 2019, which is their planned timeline.
According to Congressional sources, DOD has requested outside forces be sent to Malmstrom or F.E. Warren AFB and the Hueys from whichever base gets the outside aircraft would be sent to the other missile bases to augment their fleet.
The military is considering the option, but no decision has been made.
“U.S. Strategic Command submitted a request to the Joint Staff to address shortfalls resulting from UH-1N performance limitations. The Joint Staff is currently working with us and the services to identify a solution. As part of that effort, the full range of Department of Defense assets and capabilities are being examined,” said Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell, Strategic Command spokesman.
Last year’s defense budget included $2.456 million for the UH-1N Replacement System Program Office stand-up.
The Air Force’s fiscal year 2017 budget request included $32.4 million in support of future year aircraft production, as well as procurement of production engineering support, ground support equipment, publications and technical data and program management activities.
Also included in the Air Force’s FY17 budget request is $25 million for a Service Life Extension Program for a portion of the Huey fleet that involves things such as structural repairs and replacement of key systems based on structural fatigue, system obsolescence and a diminishing manufacturing industrial base. The UH-1N is a 45-year-old helicopter and the oldest in the Defense Department, and the work “is necessary to address concerns identified in multiple studies and to prevent the aircraft from being grounded,” according to the budget justification.
It’s part of a longer project to enable the SLEP of 30 Hueys that are needed to bridge the gap until the helicopters can be replaced.
Earlier budget proposals indicated that the Air Force had planned to replace the Huey by purchasing Army UH-60A Black Hawk models and converting them to UH-60L models using existing government contractor services by 2020 for an estimated $980 million.
The bill also includes funding $14.6 million for a new missile maintenance dispatch facility at Malmstrom. Last year’s budget included $19.7 million for a new tactical response force alert facility.
The new helicopters and TRF program are replacing the current missile maintenance dispatch facility in Building 1440. The new facility will provide office space for managing and planning maintenance activity; storage for thousands of components and equipment for missile field; space for component repair and testing; and keep vehicles out of the weather and prolong resource lifespan of vehicles, according to the Air Force project description.
On-base facilities are required to inspect and repair components and equipment to be used or installed at ICBM launch and launch control facilities, according to the Air Force, and those facilities should increase efficiency of component and equipment transport from the repair shop to the installer. Maintenance teams use a variety of vehicles, including some that are specialized, to repair, maintain and replace all components.