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FY 2013 Defense Budget Request: Cuts in Air Force Aircraft

The Air Force says that its fiscal year 2013 budget proposal comes from an approach “that retains critical core capabilities and maintains the Air Force’s ability to rapidly respond to global mission demands across the spectrum of conflict, and operate effectively in anti-access and area denial environments.”

While the proposal was still being shaped, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said, “We are making deliberate strategic choices about the key programs and capabilities that need to go forward so that we have still the finest military in the world 10 years from now.”

A press release associated with the budget proposal refers to a “smaller but agile, deployable and modernized force able to meet warfighter needs.”

To those who argue for hard solutions to the nation’s debt problems, the cuts in planned expenditure by DoD overall are too small to have much impact. To those who believe that defense is important enough to be exempt from reductions, the cuts are painful. “The budget released by the administration … is not a shot over the bow of the American aerospace and defense worker – it’s a direct hit,” said the Aerospace Industries Association.


Big Picture

The Obama administration is proposing $525.4 billion in FY 13 defense spending plus $88.5 billion to be appropriated separately for Iraq and Afghanistan in what’s called overseas contingency operations (OCO). It’s the first real reduction in military spending over the last decade.

The Air Force’s portion is $110.1 billion (compared to $115.2 billion appropriated in the current fiscal year; throughout this article, FY 12 figures will appear in parentheses) plus $14.3 billion for OCO ($16.8 billion in FY 12) including $2.8 billion that is so secret no one will say what the money will be spent on. The OCO money is not supposed to be used to buy hardware, but it includes $77 million for 1,419 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) bombs and 304 AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles. The justification for purchasing from the OCO ledger is that they’re replenishments for others used in battle.

C-27J Afghanistan

A U.S. Air Force C-27J Spartan assigned to the 702nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, approaches the runway at a remote airfield in Qalat, Afghanistan. The C-27J, operated by a joint Army and Air National Guard crew, was delivering supplies and troops to Forward Operating Base Apache, Afghanistan. The Air Force is seeking to “divest” itself of the Spartan. U.S. Air Force Photo/Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen

This will be the first fiscal year, however, in which no aircraft are bought with OCO money. In 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama promised to end the Bush-era practice of funding OCO separately from the defense budget.

The Air Force has plenty of expenses – personnel, operation and maintenance and military construction – but it enjoys little flexibility with these. While major force structure and end strength reductions are proposed between FY 2013 and FY 2017, Congress has yet to act on this budget. The big changes in the service’s budget for FY 2013 are all centered on aircraft programs.

Several key programs are being terminated. The RQ-4 block 30 Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft, once slated to replace the U-2 reconnaissance plane, will be phased out. The Air Force now says that the U-2 has as much as 30 years of structural life remaining and is less costly to operate; the service hasn’t decided yet what will happen to infrastructure at Sigonella, Italy, and on Guam that was built to support Global Hawk.

The Air Force seeks to “divest” itself of its C-27J Spartan twin-engined airlifter fleet. Currently, 21 planes of a planned 38 are in Air National Guard units. The Air Force will kill its Light Mobility Aircraft (LIMA) program, as well as the long-delayed and deeply troubled C-130 Hercules Avionics Modernization Program (AMP) that was supposed to upgrade and standardize Hercules cockpits. The Light Air Support (LAS) program is not mentioned in budget briefing documents.

For FY 13, the Air Force wants 54 aircraft (132 in FY 12), including 30 manned (59) and 24 remotely piloted (73), drawing from the $11 billion for aircraft procurement in its base budget request. This includes:

  • 24 MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft (48 in FY 12 OCO funds)
  • 19 F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters (18)
  • 4 CV-22 Tilt-Rotor aircraft (5)
  • 4 MC-130J Combat Commando special operations aircraft (6)
  • 2 AC-130J gunships (1)
  • 1 HC-130J (3) rescue aircraft


Plane Plans

Last Raptor

The final Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor rolled off the assembly line in Marietta, Ga. 13 Dec. 2011, accompanied by Lockheed Martin employees and the South Cobb High School marching band. Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin

The current year’s acquisitions included one each C-17 Globemaster III and F-22A Raptor, each of which is the final aircraft in its production run (223 C-17s and 187 F-22As). Also in the current year is provision for six LAS and nine C-27J aircraft, both of which the Air Force now intends to drop. In the current year, the Air Force also picked up four HH-60G Pave Hawk operational loss replacements (these are modified Army UH-60M models) and three C-37A Gulfstream V executive transports. The current year also included provisions for three RQ-4s, two common vertical lift support platforms (UH-1N Twin Huey replacements) and one C-130J Super Hercules airlifter.

The F-35A purchase is a step backward, as the Air Force abandons a plan to conduct tests and begin operations simultaneously; now the Joint Strike Fighter will be assembled at a slower rate and the focus will be on tests.

The budget proposal includes software upgrades for the F-22, a radar upgrade for the F-15C/D Eagle, and a major construction effort to bed down the F-22 at Joint Base Hickam-Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The FY 13 budget proposal also provides a new communications system for the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber (which has been flying with an analog cockpit since it first appeared in 1988), and improved precision weapon capabilities for the B-52 Stratofortress. There are also much-needed avionics modifications for the KC-10 Extender and KC-135 Stratotanker.

The Air Force will continue to have operating expenses in Iraq, but Congress decreed the war in that country over on Dec. 15, 2011, and service leaders say Dec. 17 was the first day in 21 years when no air tasking order was issued for operations in that country.’

The defense budget proposal and the Air Force’s portion are, of course, only part of the Obama administration $ 3.8 trillion budget proposal that appears likely to stir passionate debate on Capitol Hill this spring and summer. Critics to Obama’s right include Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) who called the proposal “debt on arrival.” “This is an ambush budget,” Barrasso said. “The president is ambushing the American people.” Some lawmakers are working to try to save Global Hawk and C-27J. Others, on the president’s left, will be arguing for bigger cuts.


Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...