U.S. Defense Programs To Watch

F-35 above aircraft carrier
The Marine Corps is asking for seven additional F-35Bs in the fiscal 2022 budget request compared to the previous year’s projection.
Credit: Lockheed Martin

At first glance, President Joe Biden’s $715 billion defense budget request for fiscal 2022 appears to be largely a holdover from the previous administration. It prioritizes countering threats from China, continues an increase in research and development accounts and, surprisingly, amps up funding to modernize the nuclear arsenal. These choices are setting up yet another battleground on Capitol Hill.

  • New budget proposal scales back Advanced Battle Management System
  • U.S. military services do not request F-35s on unfunded priority wish lists

Compared to the fiscal 2021 budget request, the proposed increase in research and development funding in fiscal 2022 is a little more than 5%, or an additional $5 billion. The new budget proposal includes roughly $212 billion for the Air Force and Space Force, $211 billion for the Navy and Marine Corps, $172 billion for the Army and $117 billion for other defense-wide spending.

The investment in new technologies will come at a cost for aircraft such as the Fairchild Republic A-10, Boeing F/A-18A-D and Lockheed Martin F-35. The Air Force proposes retiring 213 aircraft to invest in other areas. In previous years, lawmakers have added funding to keep older aircraft active and provided additional money to buy more F-35s than requested. It is unclear if that practice will continue.

Aircraft Retirements

Last year, the Air Force proposed retiring McDonnell Douglas KC-10s and Boeing KC-135s to make room for Boeing KC-46A deliveries, but Congress blocked the request because of KC-46 development problems. This year, lawmakers may be persuaded to grant the request because of a position reversal: For the first time, U.S. Transportation Command (Transcom) supports the Air Force’s plan to begin KC-135 retirements.

“We’re in a different place this year than we were last year,” Transcom chief Gen. Stephen Lyons said during a Hudson Institute event on May 25. Transcom’s opposition played a key role in lawmakers’ decision to deny the request. Lyons said the Air Force has made progress with the KC-46A but acknowledged the new tanker is not available for all missions.

The Pentagon is also revisiting a series of previously unpopular divestment requests. It will certainly get pushback from Capitol Hill on its proposal to retire 42 A-10s: the Arizona delegation has already sounded the alarm to block the proposal—there are A-10s based at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson. Other proposed retirements include 48 Boeing F-15C/Ds, 47 Lockheed Martin F-16C/Ds, 20 Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Block 30s, 18 Lockheed Martin C-130Hs and MC-130Hs, four Northrop Grumman E-8Cs, three Sikorsky HH-60Gsh and two Lockheed Martin EC-130Hs.


Nuclear Modernization

Biden has long been a champion of nuclear arms control, but the fiscal 2022 budget proposal reflects plans for new nuclear weapons. The new budget requests $43.2 billion for modernizing all three legs of the triad—the new Northrop Grumman B-21 stealth bomber, the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent and Columbia-class ballistic submarine. The proposal includes funding for two Northrop Grumman B-21 test aircraft and to scale manufacturing for initial production.

The budget also proposes $609 million for the Long-Range Standoff Missile to equip the bomber fleet, maintains the W76-2 low-yield nuclear warhead that is outfitted on submarines, includes $5.2 million for a new sea-launched cruise missile that can carry a nuclear warhead and $10 million for the National Nuclear Security Administration to support warhead development.

Democrats are already advocating ending development of the new nuclear cruise missile. Senate Appropriations Committee member Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and House Armed Services Committee (HASC)seapower and projection forces subcommittee Chairman Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) have sponsored legislation to block funding.

Hypersonic Weapons

The fiscal 2022 budget features the first year of procurement funding for the Air Force’s Lockheed Martin AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon. The budget proposes $161 million for 12 AGM-183As that will eventually be loaded onto the Boeing B-52H or B-1B.

The Navy is seeking $126 million in research, development, test and evaluation funding for Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) missiles to support the Joint Flight Campaign-3 second-shot testing, an underwater launch test facility and advanced capabilities development and integration. The CPS will outfit the Navy’s DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyers, and the Army’s mobile batteries will launch the same missile using a different canister and launch system, calling it the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon.

The Air Force is requesting $200.1 million for the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM), which may be a more affordable version of the AGM-183A. Boeing has revealed concepts of the B-1 and B-52 carrying HACMs, and it may be possible for the F-35, F-15EX and F/A-18E/F to carry the lightweight hypersonic weapon.

Advanced Battle Management System

It was a hot program under the Trump administration characterized as an  Internet of Things for the military, but the Biden budget request proposes scaling back the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System. The service is seeking $204 million for the program in fiscal 2022, a nearly 50% reduction compared to the fiscal 2021 budget projection. The bulk of the fiscal 2022 request is flagged to Capability Release 1, the Air Force’s plan to integrate a pod on the KC-46 that would allow the F-35 and Lockheed Martin F-22 to pass sensor data to command-and-control centers via the new tanker. The remaining $57 million is to develop digital infrastructure that features secure processing, connectivity and data management products.


CH-47F Block II

For the third year in a row, the Army did not request funding for Boeing CH-47F Block II aircraft, with senior officials saying the additional aircraft are not needed until 2026 (AW&ST May 31-June 13, p. 38). Over the last two budget cycles, Congress allocated funding for the effort anyway, and that may be the case again. Even as the service describes the Block IIs as “early to need,” the Army requested $252 million for CH-47F Block II aircraft in an unfunded priority list sent to Congress and obtained by Aviation Week. In the document, the service says that without the $252 million, the program will face a one-year delay.

The Block II CH-47F features a lighter airframe, improved drivetrain and advanced composite rotor blades that promise a 1,500-lb. increase in lift. The Army plans to keep CH-47Fs flying until at least 2040.

F-35 and F-15EX

For the first time, the Air Force is not requesting additional F-35As in its $4.2 billion unfunded priority list sent to Congress and obtained by Aviation Week. The service is seeking $360 million for 20 Pratt & Whitney F135 engine power modules. The service says the F-35 enterprise’s capacity to repair the modules is insufficient and affecting the Air Force’s nonmission-capable rate. Overall orders for the F-35s decline by 11 aircraft compared to the fiscal 2021 budget projection, with 12 fewer F-35As and six fewer F-35Cs. But the Marine Corps is looking to buy seven additional F-35Bs in fiscal 2022 than projected in the previous year.

Instead of investing in fifth-generation fighter procurement, the Air Force contends it needs $1.3 billion for 12 F-15EX aircraft, spares and support equipment to refresh the aging F-15C fleet. The additional funding would support F-15C divestment by the end of fiscal 2026, increase the fiscal 2022 F-15EX buy to 24 jets—Boeing’s maximum production capacity—and procure 24 conformal fuel tanks to increase fuel capacity and combat radius.

Congress may support the idea of not buying larger numbers of F-35s in fiscal 2022. HASC readiness subcommittee Chairman John Garamendi (D-Calif.) says the previous years’ F-35 quantity increases exacerbated the program’s maintenance problems. The Pentagon is facing a considerable backlog of F135 engine depot work.

“If this program continues to fail to significantly control and reduce actual projected sustainment costs, we may need to invest in other, more affordable programs and backfill an operational shortfall of potentially over 800 tactical fighters,” HASC tactical air and land forces subcommittee Chairman Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) said during a hearing on the F-35 program.


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2022 DoD Budget