U-2 gains, Global Hawk slowed in DOD spending bill

The Senate last week passed a $268 billion Defense appropriations bill with sharply focused language and funding for key airborne surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence systems.

The legislation zeroes in on several key high-tech systems that the Pentagon used heavily during the 78-day air war in Yugoslavia and pledges continued support to the Pentagon's quest for information superiority on the battlefield.

The Senate allotted $10 million for upgrades to cockpit systems and defensive avionics systems in the U-2 spy plane, which during Operation Allied Force provided NATO forces with 24-hour photographic intelligence support by transmitting images to high-level commanders and tactical users in the field.

"The conferees understand that the U-2 was considered by many to be the 'backbone' of the airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance mission in Kosovo," a Senate/House conference report on the bill states.

The House and Senate conference report on the bill also expressed Congress' concern that the Air Force may be planning to proceed with a revised program for the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle that lawmakers have yet to approve. Like the U-2, the Global Hawk UAV and other UAVs provided critical tactical intelligence, particularly imagery, to commanders in the field and in the air during Allied Force.

According to the report, the cost of the Global Hawk program could exceed $800 million, with lawmakers concerned that "the Air Force may divert funds budgeted or appropriated for other intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to fully fund" the UAV. To keep the Air Force from using Global Hawk as a "bank" for other ISR programs, the final version of the DOD spending bill limited the increase for the project to $15 million.

Continuing its defense of the military frequency spectrum, Congress for the second year in a row inserted language in the bill designed to protect frequencies used by the Global Positioning System. The bill directed DOD to initiate what Congress called a "spectrum harmonization program" to weed out "noise" from non-GPS frequency bands that could interfere with GPS data.

The bill also recommended an increase of $45 million to fund communications and electronics infrastructure upgrades throughout the Marine Corps, particularly the replacement of key information transfer components inside buildings on Marine Corps bases in California and Virginia.

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