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Boeing jets, new drone headquarters are Northwest plums in Pentagon budget

By Adam Ashton | The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.) | Published: February 10, 2016

Tacoma, Wash. (Tribune News Service) — The Pentagon’s budget request for next year would keep two major Boeing contracts moving at full tilt and would deliver about $150 million for a few new military construction projects in Washington.

The new money won’t flow to Joint Base Lewis-McChord or the South Sound military community.

Aside from a proposed 1.6 percent pay hike for troops, the $583 billion military budget request keeps a tight lock on Army spending. That leaves little room for growth at Army-led JBLM.

The budget request provides $2.9 billion for the Air Force to buy 15 KC-46 Pegasus refueling tankers from Boeing. The jet is under development in King and Snohomish counties.

It also provides $1.9 billion for 11 Boeing-made P-8A Poseidon jets. Those submarine-hunting patrol aircraft are finished in Renton.

The two largest new military construction projects in the spending bill would be built at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. The station stands to gain a $45 million maintenance hangar for its fleet of EA-18 Growler jets.

The Navy also wants to build a $30 million headquarters for sailors to fly an unmanned aircraft called a Triton. Tritons are drones with a 131-foot wingspan. They would not fly out of Whidbey Island, though their pilots are expected to be based there.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., secured a long-sought item in a separate funding request for the Department of Homeland Security with $150 million earmarked to buy a polar icebreaker for the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard has three vessels, a fleet Cantwell has argued is too small as various countries stake claims for resources in the Arctic Ocean.

Elsewhere, Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane has a $27 million project in the budget to improve facilities for a survival school located there.

Naval bases Kitsap-Bangor and Kitsap-Bremerton have three projects in the proposal worth a total of $47 million. They’d improve a pier at Bremerton and spruce up submarine maintenance facilities at Bangor.

JBLM swelled with more than $1 billion in military construction during the Iraq war. Lately, the Army has been reducing the number of troops stationed there as it carries out a broad drawdown.

By the end of next year, the Army is expected to have 460,000 soldiers, down from a peak of about 570,000 in 2011.

The Army budget request prioritizes training to keep soldiers ready for unexpected emergencies. It funds 19 large-scale exercises for brigades at the Army’s combat training centers in Southern California and in Louisiana, the same number as the past two years.

It continues funding for a series of exercises in east Asia called Pacific Pathways that has involved JBLM soldiers in recent years.

And, it calls on the Army to deploy soldiers to South Korea and Europe on regular rotations to partner with allies concerned about Russian, Chinese and North Korean military expansion.

More troops could be pulled to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army budget includes about $23 billion to support those “overseas contingency operations,” an increase of $2 billion.

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©2016 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)
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