LOS ANGELES — The U.S. Air Force will fight to protect key programs and capabilities from the drastic defense budget cuts being prepared by the congressional “super committee.”

Although the scale of these cuts is yet to be revealed, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley outlined nine key areas where core missions and capabilities will be protected from wholesale reductions. Speaking at the Air Force Association Global Warfare Symposium here, Donley lists the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, KC-46A tanker and “long-range strike family of systems, including the new bomber,” as vital to the Air Force’s goals of sustaining ongoing modernization and future air superiority.

Other key areas include continued development of unmanned air systems and related “post-9/11 improvements,” maintenance of overseas forward presence, and modification of space systems for improved communications and missile warning. Donley also confirmed that maintaining the nuclear triad is a key target, as is continuing Air Force support of U.S. Special Forces Command.

Other priorities include protecting funding for improved cyberwarfare capability, maintaining an Air Force presence in every U.S. state and preserving the force’s “organic depot maintenance capability.”

Donley says “we will oppose reductions that will cause irreparable harm. A lot of work lies ahead before we get strategic clarity in the environment in which we live. But we’re looking 10 years out and although we face difficult choices, I’m confident we can protect key capabilities.”

The Air Force will inevitably be much smaller as a result of the cuts, no matter what, Donley says, but “first and foremost we will continue to support our military personnel and their families. But with 35 to 40 percent of the budget committed to personnel costs, everything needs to be on the table.”

The Air Force, meanwhile, has chosen to drop Hawker Beechcraft’s AT-6 from the Light Air Support (LAS) competition, in which it was vying with Embraer’s Super Tucano. The service informed the company in a letter.

“The letter provides no basis for the exclusion,” the company said in a statement. “We are both confounded and troubled by this decision, as we have been working closely with the Air Force for two years and . . . have invested more than $100 million preparing to meet the Air Force’s specific requirements.” The company has requested a debriefing from the Air Force.

“The Air Force continues to be in close contact with all offerors of the LAS competition,” service spokesperson Jennifer Cassidy tells Aviation Week. “Due to the ongoing source selection, we cannot comment on the status of any of the proposals. We anticipate awarding the contract [in] late November/early December. We will have more information once all offerors have been debriefed following contract award.”