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Senate Panel Green-Lights More Money for Army Helos, New Auto Rifle

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The Senate Armed Services Committee’s approved version of the fiscal 2020 defense spending bill provides additional dollars for Army helicopters and a futuristic weapon to replace the M249 squad automatic weapon.

The panel’s draft $750 billion Pentagon spending bill authorizes $806.8 million for 48 AH-64E remanufactured Apache helicopters plus $105 million for three new-build Apaches — three more than the Army requested, according to the executive summary of the committee’s Fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

The spending plan provides $1.27 billion for 66 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters, which is seven fewer than the Army’s initial request. The committee, however, authorized $204.3 million for 33 UH-60V Black Hawk conversions, which is eight more than the service requested, according to the executive summary. The UH-60V upgrade adds a more modern, digital cockpit to the older UH-60L model aircraft.

The spending bill also approves the Army’s request to buy only nine CH-47 Chinook helicopters, a program the service decided to trim as a way of freeing up funding for modernization programs such as Future Vertical Lift, a project to build a new family of combat helicopters by 2028.

During budget hearings, lawmakers questioned the Army’s decision, but senior leaders maintained that the service doesn’t need any more Chinooks for the conventional force, though it still plans to buy the heavy-lift workhorse for special operations forces.

The committee approved $126 million for infantry support weapons, which includes $19.9 million above the administration’s request for the automatic rifle version of the Next-Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW).

The NGSW program is being designed to feature automatic rifle and rifle versions of a 6.8mm weapon that will replace the M249 and M4 carbine family in infantry and other close-combat formations. It’s a top program under the Army’s Soldier Lethality modernization priority.

In July, Project Manager Soldier Weapons awarded contracts to AAI Corporation/Textron Systems, General Dynamics-OTS Inc., PCP Tactical LLC and Sig Sauer Inc. and FN America LLC to develop prototypes of the automatic rifle version.

In January, the Army also released a separate prototyping opportunity notice inviting gun makers to develop prototypes of both the rifle and auto rifle versions of the NGSW using a common, government-produced 6.8mm projectile.

Both versions of the NGSW are being designed to include a high-tech fire-control system that estimates range and calculates wind and other atmospheric conditions.

— Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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