White House, Congress Differ on EC-130H Recapitalization

 - June 29, 2016, 11:19 AM
The EC-130H Compass Call electronic warfare aircraft entered service in the early 1980s. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

The Obama administration and Congress disagree over a U.S. Air Force proposal to transfer electronic warfare equipment from EC-130H Compass Call turboprops to a Gulfstream business jet platform. House and Senate committees have opposed the plan in drafting versions of the Fiscal Year 2017 defense authorization act—pending legislation the White House for other reasons has threatened to veto.

In May, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) said it received a budget-change request from the Air Force seeking $165.7 million to “re-host” equipment from the Compass Call aircraft, a heavily modified C-130 Hercules four-engine turboprop, onto the Gulfstream G550 Conformal Airborne Early Warning (CAEW) aircraft, “the only option that does not require development and/or certification work,” according to the service. The new platform would be designated the EC-37B, and the Air Force proposed acquiring one new aircraft per year for 10 years.

Israel Aerospace Industries’ Elta Systems subsidiary developed the G550-based CAEW platform, which has been ordered by the air forces of Israel, Singapore and Italy. In March, the Pentagon announced a $91.9 million contract award to Gulfstream from the Naval Air Systems Command to procure one G550 “green aircraft with airborne early warning air vehicle modifications in support of a range support aircraft replacement.”

In its report on the FY2017 national defense authorization bill, the HASC said it supports the Air Force’s need to field a replacement aircraft, but it did not agree with the re-hosting proposal. “The committee does not believe this is the most efficient or cost effective way to cross-deck the capability,” it stated. Instead, the committee recommended that $165.7 million be spent on research, development, test and evaluation of a replacement, advising the Air Force “to optimize the divesture of the EC–130s and accelerate the fielding of the EC–37B.” The full House passed its version of the legislation on May 18.

Reporting on its own version of the legislation, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) recommended that funds for an EC-130H recapitalization be limited “unless the Air Force conducts a full and open competition for the replacement aircraft.” The committee said it is concerned that the Air Force had recently changed its plan regarding the 14-aircraft Compass Call fleet.

“In Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016, the Air Force felt compelled to quickly divest half of the EC-130H fleet with no plan for replacing that lost capability,” the SASC stated. “This year, the Air Force proposed a plan that assumes replacing EC-130H capability is urgent, and that urgency does not allow enough time to conduct a full and open competition for the  replacement platform. The committee believes the Air Force’s proposal to  recapitalize the EC-130H Compass Call aircraft using a sole-source purchase of 10 business class aircraft would not give us any confidence that the Air Force is achieving the maximum value for the American taxpayer.”

The Senate passed its version of the defense authorization bill on June 14; however, the White House opposes various provisions in both House and Senate bills relating to overseas contingency funding, acquisition reform and keeping open the Guantanamo Bay military prison. In a “statement of administration policy” dated June 7, the White House said it also objects to the SASC recommendation against funding the Compass Call equipment re-hosting plan.

“The Air Force requires the flexibility to employ appropriate contracting authorities as allowed by law, including the exemptions to full and open competition in order to efficiently and effectively execute the Compass Call re-host plan,” the White House said. “If the Air Force determines that less than full and open competition is allowable and advisable, conducting a full and open competition will unnecessarily delay fielding critical warfighter capability.”