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The Air Force’s Unfunded Wish List

In response to a request from the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, the top command of the U.S. Air Force has identified 20 currently unfunded priorities for the FY2010 defense budget. According to USAF Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, the “wish list” fills gaps in the service’s formal budget request, covering a wide range of equipment, from battlefield communications to F-35 spares and support.

“These requirements provide direct support to our Combatant Commanders for the joint fight, accelerate programs to achieve national security goals or identify programmatic disconnects that resulted from the rapid close of the FY10 President’s Budget build,” Schwartz wrote in his cover letter to the $1.9 billion list, which was delivered to Rep. John McHugh (R-NY) on May 18, 2009, along with the service’s formal budget request.

Ten percent of the wish list funds, covering an unspecified number of classified projects, came last on the list, with another set of classified requests (Priority 9) taking that element to a total of $331.1 million. The overall list was headed by a $180.2 million request for two additional BD-700 communications aircraft to complement one already under lease for the U.S. Central Command, (CENTCOM) which the USAF budget request includes funding to purchase.

The BD-700 is a Bombardier Global Express, a Mach .89 corporate jet with a range of 7,080 miles that has been outfitted with the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node. The BACN extends the range of voice communications and enables transmission of a variety of data formats among airborne and ground elements.

“Among the 20 items there are a few so mission critical to the Combatant Commanders that we would provide offsets to ensure their funding, such as the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node. These urgent operational needs are our highest priorities,” he wrote. “We will work closely with the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Congress on a strategy to meet those requirements, which could include FY09 or FY10 reprogrammings or realignment of funds during the enactment process.”

Enhanced communications and sensor capability, spares, and upgrades dominate the list, especially in areas where there are no current spares or legacy systems are obsolete and no longer supported.

Priority 3 on the list, for example, calls for $103.4 million to complete development and launch two Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) satellites to meet a CENTCOM urgent need request for enhanced electro-optical and infrared sensor support in Southwest Asia.

Improved sensors also are the goal of an $81 million request (Priority 5) for 81 AAQ-29 Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) kits required for the USAF HH-60G Pave Hawk special operations helicopter to meet COCOM requirements for up-to-date night low illumination and adverse weather missions. The request notes that legacy FLIR kits are no longer supported, while increased wartime attrition and sustainment challenges have led to a critical shortage of replacement kits. Another $120 million (Priority 12) would go to procuring three HH-60G operational loss replacement aircraft in FY10.

The A-10 Thunderbolt II close air support aircraft would receive $67.1 million in additional modification funding (Priority 7), including 36 Advanced Infrared Countermeasures (AAR-47) kits/installations to upgrade the aircraft with a Missile Warning System needed to support a 2008 COCOM urgent operational need (UON). Priority 8, meanwhile, would enable procurement of five Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars ($50 million), continuing radar and electronic warfare enhancements for the F-15C fleet, giving the aircraft’s primary sensor increased range and power and enabling detection of cruise missile-size targets.

Priority 4 on the list would provide $143 million for spares and support equipment for 10 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters included in the FY10 budget. According to Schwartz, that covers a funding shortfall to ensure the aircraft are delivered with full field support – and without passing additional costs along to F-35 joint and coalition partners.

Priority 15 addresses a lack of dedicated aerial refueling platforms for Combat Search and Rescue operations in the European Command (EUCOM) and African Command (AFRICOM). Two HC-130J aircraft would be procured for $158 million to help the Air Force meet increasing demands for CSAR assets by both COCOMS for in-theater and cross-command support for Personnel Recovery missions.

 

The Remaining Requests Would Provide:

  • $78 million for critical modifications to USAF EC-130H Compass Call tactical command, control and communications countermeasures aircraft
  • $136.3 million for F-22 post-production support
  • $44 million for 17 AIM-9X and 33 AIM 120-D air-to-air missiles
  • $169.5 million to fund the Air Force’s 11 highest priority unfunded mission and Quality of Life military construction projects
  • $33.7 million to integrate Space Atmospheric Burst (SABRS) detection and discrimination of both nuclear and non-nuclear explosions in space
  • $30.6 million to complete hardware and software upgrades to enable B-52 bombers to carry smart weapons internally
  • $23.9 million to fund engineering investigation and design for Versatile Digital Automated Test Stations and Automated Test Systems to support multiple weapons systems at USAF depots
  • $53.1 million to accelerate integration of the Air National Guard into USAF Network Operation
  • $69.9 million for Agile Combat Support improvements at Thule AB, Greenland

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J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...