The U.S. Air Force’s portion of an emerging Pentagon wish list of extra spending in fiscal 2015 and beyond is $41 billion, including $7 billion in the year starting Oct. 1, according to the armed service’s secretary.
Deborah Lee James also told the Bloomberg Government conference on Feb. 26 that the budget request coming March 4 will call for 283 aircraft to be retired, including the A-10 close air support (CAS) fleet and U-2 high-flying reconnaissance system.
Combat air patrols (CAPs) provided by unmanned aircraft like theand will show a plan to rise from 50 now to just 55, instead of an earlier goal of 65. Moreover, plans call for retiring MQ-1s over the five-year Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) and going to only MQ-9s.
Following a top-level Pentagon decision for all service and combatant commands to cut their headquarters, James said the Air Force will exceed the 20% goal and will do it in one to two years instead of the five mandated. Several offices will be combined, including one forming from strategy, budget and planning groups now.
As for airmen overall, she said the request outlines reductions of 25,000 uniformed personnel across the active, reserve and Air National Guard, with “most” cuts coming from active-duty ranks.
The proposed aircraft retirements would save $3.5 billion from previous plans, James said. The service will make a case that when it comes to the A-10, other aircraft like the AC-130,, B-1 and B-52 can and have provided CAS support to ground troops. Indeed, 80% of CAS in Afghanistan has come from aircraft other than A-10s.
Regarding the U-2, James said the plan to retire the Dragon Lady and lean on theUAV — a reversal of last year’s plan — was due to changing costs with logistics of the two fleets. James said a change, or new calculation, in the UAV’s costs came to light over the past year or two. Still, the Air Force will have to improve the UAV’s sensor capability to meet U-2 levels, she acknowledged.
The service’s top three acquisition priorities are the long-range strike bomber, theJoint Strike Fighter and aerial refueling tanker. On the bomber, James said the budget will be published, while the bomber’s capabilities will remain classified.
The additional $41 billion the Air Force will seek in the wish list will come under the total $141 billion the Pentagon will outline in the FYDP if Congress goes along with other, controversial proposals like base closures, personnel spending reforms and likely others outside the military. If those funds — which Pentagon leaders have said will be focused on readiness of military forces — are not provided, and the Air Force has to live under spending caps now in current law known as sequestration, more cuts will be pursued.
James said under sequestration-level spending caps, the Air Force will seek to retire 80 more aircraft, including the entire KC-10 tanker fleet. The Global Hawk Block 40 would be abandoned, and the effort to bring U-2 sensors to the UAV would be delayed. There would be 19 fewer JSFs purchased, and UAV CAPs would go down to 45. There would be no funds for the roughly $1 billion next-generation jet engine development effort.