Pentagon Preserves Development Priorities But Slashes Current Operations
The Obama administration has proposed a $526.6 billion defense budget for Fiscal Year 2014 that continues funding for developmental priorities, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the KC-46A tanker and a future long-range bomber. The President’s base defense budget, released two months late on April 10, does not include funding for overseas contingency operations in Afghanistan and does not reflect ongoing, across-the-board budget cuts mandated by the “sequestration” process that began in March. It contains “balanced deficit reduction proposals that are more than sufficient” to allow Congress to replace or repeal those cuts, according to the Department of Defense (DOD).
Sequestration has obliged the Air Force to cut 203,000 of its 1.16 million flight hours. On April 9, Air Combat Command (ACC) said it will ground 17 active-duty squadrons immediately or when they return from deployments. They include A-10, B-1, B-52, F-15, F-16 and F-22 units. Aircrew will use simulators and academic training “to maintain basic skills and knowledge,” ACC said. “This budget request does not include the funding it would take” to repair the damage caused by this action, said Air Force Major Gen. Edward Bolton. “If sequestration continues in Fiscal [Year] 2014, there will be additional impacts,” he added.
In March, the Air Force grounded the Thunderbirds F-16 aerial demonstration team and cancelled all support for airshows. The Navy has also cut flying hours and deferred some carrier deployments, and grounded the Blue Angels F/A-18 demonstration team.
The budget proposal, which would take effect on October 1, provides $8.4 billion to support continued development of the three F-35 variants across the services. There is “no change in the JSF,” Rear Adm. Joseph Mulloy said of the Navy F-35C and Marine Corps F-35B variants. “Both services are looking forward to the delivery of the airplanes.” Bolton said his service continues funding research, development, test and evaluation of its “big three” priorities: the Lockheed Martin F-35, the Boeing KC-46A and the future long range strike bomber (LRS-B). Funding of the “new penetrating bomber” is set at $379 million, according to the DOD. But Bolton said the Air Force might need to reduce low-rate initial production deliveries of up to five F-35As from the 19 requested in the current fiscal year as it works through the existing budget cuts.
Major unmanned aircraft programs encounter headwinds in the proposed budget. Mulloy said that development of the Navy’s MQ-4C Triton broad area maritime surveillance (Bams) aircraft has lapsed by one year because of issues with its V-tail design and integration of its mission computer. The service has reduced production funding by $425 million, shifting about half of that to research and development.
The Air Force repeated its desire to end the Global Hawk Block 30 program after it receives the last of 18 aircraft under contract in 2014. “The U-2 has a better operational capability, and the money it would take to bring the Global Hawk Block 30 up to that level is in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” Bolton said. To date, the U.S. Congress has disagreed, and restored Global Hawk Block 30 operating funds in its consideration of the Fiscal 2013 budget.