The U.S. Air Force has decided to move forward in acquiring the Combat Rescue Helicopter, utilizing funds Congress mandated in fiscal 2014 final appropriations, the armed service’s budget director said March 4.

Maj. Gen. Jim Martin told Pentagon reporters during his briefing to them on the fiscal 2015 budget request and five-year Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) spending blueprint that he was informed of the decision shortly before walking into the room. The move reflects a bow to a strongly stated congressional priority, although no funds were being sought in the 2015 request. Another official said it likely meant cuts elsewhere to redirect funds to a CRH program of record.

Industry’s response was positive, of course. “Sikorsky and our teammate Lockheed Martin thank the U.S. Air Force for enabling us to build a modern and affordable combat rescue helicopter that will replace the service’s rapidly aging HH-60G Pave Hawk fleet,” they said.

Lawmakers, particularly from Sikorsky’s New England headquarters, also were happy as the effort could entail 112 new helos. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said she spoke with Secretary Deborah Lee James earlier in the day. “I was very pleased to hear the secretary of the Air Force’s personal commitment to this important program and to see the Air Force’s intent to award the contract in June,” the congresswoman said.

Beyond the embattled helicopter effort, the Air Force budget request for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 follows a preview that James gave last week. However, Martin provided more information, particularly on acquisition-related winners and losers as the Air Force looks to provide a globally superior force against any “high-end” threat by around 2023.

For instance, the Air Force will seek $100 million in 2015 and $2.4 billion over the FYDP for a replacement for the Northrop Grumman E-8 Joint Stars. Also, $600 million will be sought over the five years for the T-X trainer replacement; and $500 million will be pursued for a follow-on weather forecasting satellite for the military after the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (Npoess) program with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was dissolved.

Overall Air Force procurement will rise some $2 billion compared with the current fiscal year, in large part to start buying Boeing KC-46A aerial refueling tankers, according to Martin. Seven are in the budget blueprint. The request further protects and promotes the service’s other two top acquisition priorities: system design and development of the Long-Range Strike-Bomber is maintained, while 26 Lockheed Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighters (JSFs) are sought, as well as funds for Block 2B and 3F modifications.

Another two JSFs are listed in the $7 billion Air Force portion of a $26 billion wish list the Pentagon is providing Congress alongside its total $496 billion base budget request. That list of additional desires also includes acceleration of C-130J and MQ-9 UAV recapitalization efforts, and more upgrades to certain legacy equipment, Martin said.

Likewise, the request increases the quantity of extended-range Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM-ER), and maintains the “minimum” sustainment rates for Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile and AIM-9X.

However, not in the Air Force’s plans are the F-16 Combat Avionics Programmed Extension Suite (Capes) upgrade program. Martin described the move as a “tough decision,” but one that reflects the Air Force’s decision to go with new and advanced hardware and systems under budget constraints. “We favored buying new capabilities over upgrading legacy equipment,” he said. “We made choices we really didn’t want to make.” He acknowledged that the Air Force may revisit the decision if the F-16 capability is deemed critical, but he described that as normal per annual evaluations of service needs, not simply a deferment of a Capes decision, specifically.

Similarly, while seeking to divest the whole U-2 and A-10 fleets, as noted by James and other officials last week, the Air Force seeks to cut the F-15C fleet by 51 aircraft, Martin said. The request further would “reduce some tactical fighters, command and control, electronic attack and intratheater airlift” to help fund higher priorities.

Martin said of the 25,000 airmen that James said would be let go under the FYDP, more than 18,000 would come from active duty while 3,000 and almost 2,000 would come from the reserve and Air National Guard, respectively.

Subscribers to the Aviation Week Intelligence Network should keep visiting AWIN’s 2015 budget page for news, data and analysis of programs and priorities throughout the business day and as the proposal makes its way through Congress. The page can be found at http://www.aviationweek.com/awin/USBudget2015.aspx.