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Nov. 4, 2010—Completing the Fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill be just one of the items on Congress' agenda when it reconvenes later this month for a lame-duck session following a particularly tumultuous midterm election.

The House approved its 1,030-page version of the bill in May, while it still had a significant Democratic majority, but the Senate has yet to complete debate on its own draft and vote on it.

Since then, Republicans have reclaimed control of the House and ousted the current chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), along with a host of other long-time Democrats serving in key defense oversight roles (see Winds of Change). Republicans fell short of a Senate take over, but succeeded in tightening the majority gap.

It's unclear what these changes will mean for the lame-duck session and the passage of the defense authorization bill by year's end.

This is where the authorization process stands now:

The House bill recommends an overall discretionary authorization of $725.9 billion, including $159.3 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. That total is $17.7 billion more than President's Obama's $708.2 billion request, which also allotted $159.3 billion for the wars.

The Senate version, in its present form, would authorize $725.7 billion, including $157.6 billion for the overseas contingencies.

Here are some Air Force-related points of interest:

F-35 Funding: One of the biggest sticking points between the two chambers is likely to revolve around funding for the F136, the competitive engine for the F-35 strike fighter. The House, once again, came out strongly in favor of the General Electric-Rolls Royce F136, adding $485 million to the President's budget to continue the engine's development.

The Senate has thus far backed the White House and Defense Department and provided no funding for the F136. The Administration wants to proceed only with the Pratt & Whitey F135 for the F-35 and stop work on the F136.

Both the House and the Senate expressed concern over the rising cost of the fifth-generation F-35, but seem to be somewhat encouraged by the recent program reorganization. The Senate draft tasks the Defense Secretary with establishing an F-35 management plan and providing a one-time report on the F-35's expected capabilities as well as annual updates on the program.

The House bill significantly decreases the budget request for F-35 modifications from $94.2 million to just $7.6 million. Those modifications were to include funding to retrofit 25 Air Force F-35As built during low rate initial production to the Block 3 configuration—a move the House calls "premature" considering the extensive delays in the program.

C-17s. Neither the House nor Senate version of the bills has added funding to buy more C-17 transports for the Air Force beyond the 223 already in the program of record.

Long-Range Strike. Both bills support expanding Air Force long-range strike capabilities. The House directs the Air Force Secretary to provide a report on cost, schedule, and performance efforts for modernizing the existing bomber fleet, while also seeking updates on the most recent long-range strike studies, including discussions on efforts to field a new platform.

The Senate draft authorizes $198 million in funding for the "next-generation bomber."

"This funding represents a decision to move forward with the development of a next-generation bomber, as reflected in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review," writes Sen. John Thune (R-S.D), in the report attached to the Senate bill. He adds, "I believe the issue of future long-range strike capabilities has been studied closely numerous times over the past several years, and it is well past the time to move forward with developing a new bomber."

Solid Rocket Industrial Base. Both bills discuss at length the future of the solid rocket motor industrial base, expressing concern over NASA's recent decision to do away with the Constellation program and its Ares rockets.

Both also urge the Defense Department to figure out a way to sustain the existing base of solid rockets.

The House recommends $51.7 million for the Minuteman III solid rocket motor warm line program—enough to cover six rocket motor sets in Fiscal 2011. It also urges the Defense Department to "invest substantially" in research and development for the design, development, and technology maturation of a 40-inch diameter class rocket, align its long-term production plans with the Navy to maximize existing capabilities, and work with NASA on an overall strategic plan.

Operationally Responsive Space. The Senate draft authorizes $114 million—an increase of $20 million from the President's budget request—for the operationally responsive space program. It directs the Air Force Secretary to provide a report to Congressional defense committees no later than Feb. 1, 2011, outlining a plan to streamline ORS acquisition. It also supports flexible payloads for use on responsive satellite buses with common interfaces.

Solid-state Lasers. The Senate legislation discusses the possibility of putting solid-state lasers on C-130 aircraft, B-1 bombers, and F-35s. It directs the Defense Secretary to conduct a feasibility study that will determine the estimated cost per unit for each laser system and the estimated cost of operation and maintenance of each platform. Solid-state lasers are not included in the House bill.