Boeing’s KC-46 program faces possible budget cut

EVERETT — The Boeing Co. is supposed to build seven aerial-refueling tankers next year for the U.S. Air Force, but proposed budget cuts could reduce that to six.

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., said he plans to introduce an amendment Wednesday that would fully fund the program and get money for another five EA-18G Growlers, another Boeing product, for the Navy.

“If you let one go now when we’re not in sequestration, that only opens the door to letting more go when sequestration comes back, and right now, I think it is coming back,” Larsen said Tuesday.

Sequestration is a budget-cutting mechanism that forces across-the-board cuts if Congress can’t reach a bipartisan deal to reduce spending.

The proposed cut to the KC-46A program and Larsen’s amendment are for the federal budget for fiscal year 2015, which starts in October.

The tanker is a military derivative of the commercially successful 767-200ER and is assembled in Everett. Four test airplanes are in production.

The Air Force plans to purchase 179 KC-46As as it overhauls an aging tanker fleet. More orders could follow in the next decade.

The Growler is based on the company’s FA-18F Super Hornet. Current orders take both the aircraft, which are assembled in St. Louis, through the end of 2016.

The Navy has pushed to buy another 22 Growlers in 2015.

In the House, Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., included five Growlers in the proposed defense budget released Monday.

The Air Force had planned on spending about $1.5 billion on the tanker program in 2015, but the proposed cut knocked that down by $225 million.

Larsen’s amendment wouldn’t change the defense budget’s bottom line — about $496 billion. Instead, it would cut money from the Navy’s littoral combat ship program.

“We have to find money in the budget somewhere,” Larsen said.

Boeing declined to comment on the proposed cut.

It isn’t clear if it would affect employment levels.

The aerospace giant has 45 orders for commercial 767s, mostly for the freighter variant.

Today figures to be a long day for the House Armed Services Committee and its subcommittees as they hash through many budget issues.

“Oxen are going to get gored,” Larsen said, referring to programs in the defense budget.

As a Democrat in the Republican-controlled House, Larsen’s amendment faces a fight.

Like other members of Washington’s congressional delegation, he has fought hard for Boeing over the years, even if he doesn’t always agree with the Chicago-based company’s business decisions.

Boeing recently announced that it will move more than 1,000 commercial engineering jobs from metro Puget Sound to other states, but Larsen says that’s not relevant in “fighting to keep the tanker program whole.”

“You’ve got to keep the long game in mind,” he said.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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