by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), June 21, 2000
McCONNELL. At the outset, neither of these helicopters were made in the
Commonwealth of Kentucky. My good friend from Connecticut has done, as usual,
a very effective job of representing his position. Were I the Senator from
Connecticut, I am confident I would be making a very similar speech. Even
though the amendment of the Senator from Connecticut doesn't specify the
particular kind of helicopter,
as a practical matter, if you leave that decision entirely to the Pentagon,
I think the Senator would agree that they are likely to prefer the Blackhawk.
Let me just point out to my
colleagues why the committee made the decision that it did. First, this
is primarily a cost decision. While we didn't want to compromise on safety
or capability, we had to consider the fact that over the next several
years of use, this subcommittee will have to provide financial support
to maintain and operate whatever aircraft is selected to move Colombian
troops. Mr. President, this is not a one-time procurement decision. We
will be dealing with this in future years. According to the Defense Security
Cooperation Agency, the Blackhawks will cost about $12 million each and
then at least $1,200 an hour to operate. Counternarcotics aircraft are
expected to average 25 hours of flying time a month year-round. To cover
these costs, the administration has requested $388 million to procure,
maintain, and operate the 30 Blackhawks.
In comparison, the Huey II
will cost $1.8 million to refurbish, and then roughly $500 an hour for
fuel, spare parts, and other operational costs.
Frankly, the strongest argument
the administration made for Blackhawks over Hueys was that the former
had twice the troop-carrying capability, as Senator Dodd pointed out.
While the Huey manufacturer challenged this argument, I decided it was
better safe than sorry. So to address the issue, we doubled the number
of aircraft we are funding to 60. Even doubling the number of helicopters,
the cost of the Huey program stays under $120 million.
Supporters of the Huey have
also argued that they can be made available sooner than the delivery schedule
of the end of the year for the Blackhawk. Given the pilot shortages and
the time it will take to `train up' either Blackhawk or Huey pilots, I
don't see this aspect as particularly decisive.
I think we have assured the
Colombians that they can successfully achieve their mission by taking
the approach we recommended in the bill.
I think we have assured the
Colombians that they can successfully achieve their mission at a lower
cost, not only now but, very importantly, to the budget here in the United
States, and lower it in the future for the United States.
With the savings we achieved
by taking the approach we recommended in the bill, we have been able to
increase the regional support for the Colombian police, increase support
for human rights programs, and sustain requested levels for equipment,
training, and related support for counternarcotics battalions.
Senator Dodd's chart points
out the precise reason we chose to fund 60 Huey IIs rather than 30 Blackhawks.
His chart points out that the cost to operate the Huey is $617 per hour
compared with the Blackhawk cost of $1,675 per hour.
The foreign operations account
has to pay for these operational costs this year, next year, and every
year after that. Those are years in which we will probably not have $1
billion in emergency funds for Colombia. That means we will have to cut
into other accounts to keep these helicopters flying in future years.
Which accounts do we cut? Refugees, UNICEF, funds for Armenia, and Russia,
demining, or health? What accounts will pay the price to fly Blackhawks
in the future years when Hueys would do?
These are U.S. units, which
do not have Blackhawks, which will have to wait while the production line
produces Colombia's inventory. Given the short- and long-term costs, and
given the impact on the availability for U.S. troops, the committee decided
to provide twice the number of refurbished Hueys which will meet all the
troop transport requirements in Colombia.
Those are the arguments for
the approach the committee has chosen.
I yield the floor.
As of June 25, 2000, this document
was also available online at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?r106:S21JN0-228: