A leading Republican senator has criticized the Air Force for proposed cuts, including to airborne warning and control system aircraft. (AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Republican on Thursday slammed the Air Force’s 2015 spending plan, saying it “increases risk to unacceptable levels.”
SASC Ranking Member Rep. James Inhofe, R-Okla., came out hard against the cuts to the service’s proposed spending plan, contending it “degrades” force readiness “while the threats to our national security are growing.”
Inhofe credited Air Force brass for protecting funding for aircraft fleets key to its future plans: a new long-range bomber, the KC-45 tanker and its version of the F-35 fighter.
Otherwise, he’s not impressed.
“Budget cuts are driving force structure decisions that increase risk to unacceptable levels,” Inhofe said, pointing to proposed cuts to the E-3 airborne warning and control system aircraft, the E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, U-2 surveillance plane and A-10 attack aircraft.
Inhofe also questioned proposed terminations of “modernization programs such as C-130 Avionics Modernization Program and F-16 Combat Avionics Programmed Extension Suite, as well as deferring maintenance on a fleet of aircraft that is approaching 30 years old.”
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh defended some of the service’s proposed budget moves, saying officials have realized “we will have to modernize from within our own topline.”
That means some fleets and programs must be cut to protect monies for others.
Inhofe has been among the sharpest congressional critics of the Obama administration, repeatedly alleging that the White House and congressional Democrats have been gutting the military’s annual budget disproportionately as part of overall federal deficit-reduction efforts.
Administration officials and Democrats counter by contending that the post-9/11 defense spending spree, along with the end of one war (Iraq) and the winding down of another (Afghanistan) have rendered big Pentagon cuts reasonable.
Lawmakers and aides in both parties, as well as budget experts, have told Defense News that reversing the cuts to which Inhofe is objecting will be difficult. That’s because a recent bipartisan budget resolution extended spending caps included in a 2011 federal deficit-reduction law, making them apply to the 2015 federal budget.