Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the F-35 program chief, expressing confidence that the four-plane drop in purchases — from 30 to 26 — will not significantly impact the program. (Tom Reynolds / US Air Force)
For months, top Air Force officials have been preparing Washington for a budget that cuts back on force structure in favor of modernization. During Tuesday’s budget reveal, they made good on their promise.
For FY 2015, Air Force procurement accounts would have a proposed fund of $18.5 billion, alongside $15.9 billion for research and development. Roughly 62 percent of the procurement fund would go towards aircraft.
Overall, the service’s budget request was $109.3 billion.
The cost of modernizing the fleet? The service aims to cut 20,400 total force airmen in fiscal 2015 alone, with a target end strength of 479,000 in FY 2019. As previewed by service officials, the A-10 Warthog and U-2 spy plane will be done away with to save what the service says would be billions of dollars. And needed improvements to facilities will be pushed back, something Maj. Gen. James Martin, the service's budget director, said would “continue to put strain” on the service’s infrastructure.
As promised, the service has focused its funds onto three major modernization programs: the KC-46A Pegasus tanker replacement, F-35 joint strike fighter and long-range strike bomber (LRS-B).
The largest driver of procurement? A proposed total of $1.5 billion to purchase seven KC-46A Pegasus tankers. That’s a large figure, but it comes with two caveats. Firstly, this is the first batch of tanker purchases, which have an inherently higher unit cost than planes further in production. Secondly, while procurement is shooting up, research spending takes a significant drop down, diving from $1.55 billion to $777 million.
The 26 F-35A purchases represent a four-plane drop from what the Air Force had planned to have in the budget. But it still represents a gain over the number of platforms procured last year, with Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the F-35 program chief, expressing confidence that the cuts will not significantly impact the program.
The service could add an additional 2 F-35A platforms if Congress agrees to fund DoD’s $28 billion so-called wishlist of programs — something that seems unlikely, according to Congressional sources.
The LRS-B program takes a big leap in costs, something outside observers have been predicting. Research for the bomber goes from $359 million to $914 million.
Even smaller procurement programs got lucky in the budget, with the T-X trainer and JSTARS surveillance platform receiving funding.
Martin also told reporters during a Tuesday media brief that the service sought to protect flying hours and large “Red Flag” training operations, which both fell victim to sequestration in 2013.