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Congress passes defense budget with plums for Boeing, not much for JBLM

The 2016 defense budget includes $3 billion for the Navy to buy 16 new Boeing-made P-8A aircraft. It’s a modified Boeing 737 that’s finished in the Puget Sound region. ( Lui Kit Wong/Staff Photographer)
The 2016 defense budget includes $3 billion for the Navy to buy 16 new Boeing-made P-8A aircraft. It’s a modified Boeing 737 that’s finished in the Puget Sound region. ( Lui Kit Wong/Staff Photographer) The News Tribune

A $607 billion defense budget Congress adopted this week funds several pricey programs under development in the Puget Sound region while stabilizing some of the financial uncertainty that had worried local military leaders in recent years.

The biggest items for the Puget Sound are contracts for two Boeing-made jets that will receive a combined $5.3 billion in new funding next year.

Of that, $3 billion buys 16 new submarine-hunting P-8A jets from Boeing. The surveillance aircraft is a modified Boeing 737 that’s manufactured in King County. The Navy is preparing to base 42 of them at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island beginning this year.

Another $2.3 billion will go to Boeing’s KC-46, the next-generation Air Force refueling tanker that also is under development south of Seattle.

Those programs appeared to be at risk at different times over the past few months because of impasses between lawmakers that had threatened to delay a budget. In September, the Air Force was concerned enough to ask for exemptions that would have allowed the KC-46 program to continue on pace if Congress had failed to pass a deal.

The pressure eased last month when congressional leaders and the White House struck a two-year budget deal, setting the conditions for lawmakers to iron out disagreements that had stalled the defense spending plan. It passed with large majorities in both the House and Senate.

Rep. Adam Smith, the senior-ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, twice cast uncharacteristic votes against a previous version of the defense budget this year but supported the final draft.

The Bellevue lawmaker had opposed the bill because he wanted it to include reforms to how the military spends from its special war-funding account as well as a plan to move detainees out of Guantanamo Bay.

The defense budget did not include those priorities for Smith, but he voted for it anyway, he said, because it provided badly needed stability to military leaders after five years of late and delayed defense budgets.

“The National Defense Authorization Act has never been perfect, and it will never be perfect,” he said. “We must empower those charged with protecting our nation’s security by giving them the means to plan.”

Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, also supported the budget.

“This is a good compromise,” Heck said Thursday at the South Sound Military and Communities Partnership’s annual forum on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

His remarks were a contrast to a grim outlook he gave to a similar military forum at JBLM in August.

Recent defense budgets have steered hundreds of millions of dollars to Puget Sound Army and Navy bases for modernization and expansion projects. This year’s budget does not start any new major military construction projects, but it directs tens of millions of dollars to Washington state for several smaller ones.

They include:

▪ $14.7 million for an energy conservation program at Joint Base Lewis-McChord

▪ $34.2 million for a ship-maintenance facility at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor

▪ $22.7 million for dry dock improvements at Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton

▪ $4.5 million to improve the ammunition pier at Indian Island.

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646, @TNTMilitary

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