USAF Expected To Ask For Fewer Aircraft Retirements In 2023 Budget
The U.S. Air Force will ask Congress for permission to retire fewer aircraft in fiscal 2023 than it did in its 2022 request, after lawmakers allowed the service to cut some platforms and appear ready to further bolster the Pentagon’s budget.
The 2023 request is expected in the coming weeks following the White House’s release of its National Security Strategy and the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy. Until the details are released by the Office of Management and Budget, senior Defense Department leaders are staying tight-lipped about their requests.
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, speaking March 9 at the McAleese and Associates Defense Programs Conference, gave a short, careful preview of the service’s request in the coming spending plan.
“I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself here, but I don’t think you’re going to see the same scale of requested retirements in this budget as you did last year. But there will still be some,” he said. “But I think going forward . . . there’s going to be some hard choices we’re going to have to make.”
In the fiscal 2022 request, the Air Force asked to retire hundreds of aircraft, including 48 F-15C/Ds; 47 F-16C/Ds, a total of 18 C-130Hs and MC-130Hs; 42 A-10s, 20 RQ-4 Block 30s, 18 KC-135s and 14 KC-10s. Congress allowed the Air Force to retire many of these in the 2022 defense policy bill, but forbid any A-10 retirements and mandated smaller numbers of C-130 and KC-135 retirements. An appropriations agreement, unveiled March 10 and awaiting passage in the Senate, adds 20 C-130Js and four MQ-9s after the service requested reducing MQ-9 combat air patrols, but not retiring aircraft.
“I want to thank the Congress,” Kendall said. “We made the case last year to let us retire aircraft, and they came through pretty well. I’m pretty happy with what they did last year, with the exception of the A-10.”
While Kendall said he, as a former Army officer, is a fan of the A-10, the threat is changing and the Air Force will continue to work with Congress on cutting more aircraft that would not be as relevant in a high-end fight against China.
The C-130s have emerged as another sticking point. There has been disagreement among the Air Force, Air National Guard and Congress on how many of the strategic airlifters are needed.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has been a proponent of keeping more of the aircraft in service and providing modernized “J” models to the Montana Air National Guard’s 120th Airlift Wing. Kendall has said the airlifter is not as important in a future fight, and the service has called for extensive cuts to this fleet. For upcoming budget deliberations, Tester said the Air Force will need to provide the right information and planning to Congress for its plan.
“I just think you get input and you do the best you can to meet the needs,” Tester said. “You’re talking to the dirt farmer now. The C-130s provide incredible airlift power and I think it’s important to have. But look, if there’s one thing that I found in the last year that I had this job—there’s more places to spend money than we’ve got money to spend.”
The appropriations deal includes an increase in the Pentagon’s overall top-line budget, up to $728.5 billion. Some lawmakers have indicated a further increase is likely after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Tester said this may cause some to wonder if now is an era of rapidly growing budgets.
“I believe what is far more important is how well those funds are spent. . . . I will review the next defense budget, which will start immediately after we get done with this one. When it is sent to Congress, my first question is going to be on defense, not how much but what’s the plan? How’s the money going to be utilized? The plan has to be focused on China.”