The U.S. Air Force is sacrificing part of its Global Hawk unmanned aerial system program while proceeding with a more aggressive buy of satellites and rockets, and moving forward with a bomber program.

The Air Force is proposing in its fiscal 2012-16 budget to cut $428 million from its Global Hawk Block 40 program, which aims to put an active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar on the high-flying unmanned aerial system (UAS) to collect data on moving targets on the ground and in the air. The Northrop Grumman/Raytheon radar also is capable of taking highly accurate synthetic aperture radar images through weather and dust.

Service officials originally planned to buy 22 of the Block 40 aircraft; the Air Force now plans to buy 11, says USAF budget deputy Marilyn Thomas. This cut will undoubtedly drive up the per-unit cost of the aircraft. It is unclear whether this will trigger yet another breach of program cost limits in the Nunn-McCurdy statute.

Meanwhile, the service is requesting $166.3 billion in fiscal 2012. Of that the so-called blue top line — excluding defense health and contingency spending — is about $119 billion, according to Maj. Gen. Alfred Flowers, deputy assistant Air Force secretary for budget. Roughly 16% of that is dedicated to research and development with 19% for procurement.

Some day-to-day expenses, such as fuel, have gone up. The Air Force paid for this in part with nearly $33.3 billion shaved from the projected budget through fiscal 2016. The fiscal 2012 budget requests three Global Hawk Block 30 aircraft at $485 million and continues Air Force research at $423.5 million, with another $549 million requested for the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance version.

“Efficiencies have certainly been used to enhance warfighting and readiness in this budget,” Flowers says.

After a two-year hiatus as an official program, USAF is dedicating $3.7 billion for the so-called Long-Range Strike family of systems, the bulk of which will be dedicated to a penetrating, nuclear-capable bomber. This includes about $200 million in fiscal 2012, roughly the same amount as last year, to keep technology developing until a proper program is restarted. Defense Secretary Robert Gates put the brakes on the project two years ago to review requirements and assess options; some in the Pentagon were concerned USAF would craft an unrealistically ambitious program that would crater from overreaching for technology. However, details on the requirements, forthcoming request for proposals and schedule are unlikely to be publicly discussed.

Gates said last month he would like for the bomber to be “optionally manned,” meaning it can be flown remotely when needed. Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman are likely to be competitors for this work.

The fiscal 2012 proposal also increases production of Reaper UAS at General Atomics to 48 per year, the maximum rate the factory can handle for Air Force purchases, and 36 Gray Eagle variants per year for the Army. USAF plans to buy 396 aircraft, and the fiscal 2012 request is for nearly $1.1 billion. The Army request is $806 million.

USAF’s plans to buy a new high-performance trainer appear to be on the back burner in the fiscal 2012 request. Flowers says $307 million is outlined across the future years’ defense plan (FYDP). Though funding begins in fiscal 2012 based on the request, there are no procurement quantities listed. Alenia, BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin/Korea Aerospace Industries are all readying existing designs in anticipation of a competition.

USAF’s request removes 57 conventional-takeoff-and-landing (CTOL) F-35s in accordance with the delay and funding cut handed down by Gates. The aircraft will reach the service later than planned, and the Air Force has outlined about $25 million to study how to conduct a life-extension program for the F-16, which the Joint Strike Fighter will replace.

Perhaps the most significant shift in the service’s Fiscal 2012 budget request is a new approach to purchasing highly expensive satellites and rockets that are needed for military operations and civilian purposes, such as air traffic control and financial transactions. The Pentagon is proposing to even out purchasing of satellites from various manufacturing facilities. This will begin with a phased purchase of Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) communications and Space-Based Infrared System (Sbirs) missile warning satellites. The plan is to buy two AEHF satellites (5 and 6) in Fiscal 2012. Officials did not cite the total cost per satellite for AEHF and Sbirs, but $550 million would be set aside for the AEHF in fiscal 2012 as a first payment, with more payments to follow. Another $185 million would be set aside in advance procurement for the next two Sbirs spacecraft (also 5 and 6). The full buy of those two Sbirs spacecraft would come in Fiscal 2013, Flowers says, adding they are estimated to cost $555 million. If realized, this would be a dramatic reduction in the per-unit cost, which is now estimated at $1.3 billion. Both AEHF and Sbirs are manufactured at Lockheed Martin’s Sunnyvale, Calif., facility, and Pentagon procurement chief Ashton Carter says the goal is to stabilize work to reduce the changes of work stoppages and loss of critical skills.

The Pentagon also plans to stabilize funding for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program beginning in fiscal 2012. The Pentagon goal is to buy a total of five of the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets annually rather than three as in previous years. In fiscal 2012-13, the Air Force will buy four, with the Navy requesting one. In fiscal 2014, USAF will buy all five boosters. The price of the program is expected to go up, largely owing to the cost of operations and services from manufacturer United Launch Alliance.

USAF also is starting research funding for the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS) in fiscal 2012 at $444.9 million; this will provide the defense portion of the now-defunct National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System.

Other USAF budget highlights are: $877.1 million for development of a KC-135 replacement plus acquisition of 10 HC/MC-130Js, one C-130J, nine C-27Js, 19 F-35As, 6 CV-22s (including one in the war contingency budget), nine Light Attack Armed Reconnaissance aircraft, four HH-60G Pave Hawks (including one in the war contingency budget) and two Common Vertical Lift Support Program (CVLSP) helicopters.

Meanwhile, the service also is struggling to keep some programs alive as the government continues to operate at fiscal 2010 levels because Congress has failed to approve budgets for fiscal 2011, which ends Sept. 30. The purchase of AESA radars for F-15 fighters is one project affected by the lack of funding in fiscal 2011, Flowers says. If the funding is not provided, the service could be forced to ground F-15s owing to parts obsolescence in the old, mechanically-steered radar.

Also considered a “new start” in fiscal 2011 and needing funding are the GPS III procurements of Satellites 3-4. USAF requested an $80 million reprogramming late last year to provide funding for long-lead parts for Satellites 3-4; the funding is being pulled from the account for purchasing AEHF Satellite 4, which will cost “less than what was budgeted,” the request document says. Without funding to avoid a production gap, the GPS III program faces a one-year slip.

USAF also is pushing to reprogram $63.1 million to purchase C-5 Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program (RERP) kits. Without the funding, “the Air Force will be forced to reopen the contract for negotiations resulting in a significant cost increase to the United States Government,” that reprogramming request states.