Military and aerospace (mil/aero) professionals in North America are debating the U.S. President’s Fiscal Year 2015 Budget, submitted to Congress this month. Priorities for defense going forward include homeland defense, strategic deterrence, building partnership capacity, and defeating asymmetric threats, as well as strengthening counterterrorism and crisis response capabilities. As a result, Special Operations forces will grow to 69,700 personnel from roughly 66,000 today.
Hagel recommendations and President Obama’s FY 2015 budget include the following changes for the Air Force.
Air Force modernization programs—including the new bomber, the Joint Strike Fighter, and the new refueling tanker—will continue.
$1 billion will be invested in a promising next-generation jet engine technology, which is expected to reduce fuel consumption and lower maintenance costs, will also help to ensure a robust industrial base—likely to be a national strategic asset.
The entire fleet of A-10 forty-year-old, single-purpose military combat aircraft will retire, saving $3.5 billion over five years. It will be replaced with Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fifth-generation, multirole fighter aircraft early next decade (2020 and beyond).
Many mil/aero proponents have vocalized their disappointment in retiring the A-10 “Warthogs,” yet military leaders have been discussing the fleet’s retirement and replacement for quite some time. The A-10 “cannot survive or operate effectively where there are more advanced aircraft or air defenses,” Hagel says, noting that the aircraft’s age is making it more difficult and costly to maintain, as well. “And as we saw in Iraq and Afghanistan, the advent of precision munitions means that many more types of aircraft can now provide effective close air support, from B-1 bombers to remotely piloted aircraft. And these aircraft can execute more than one mission.”
The Air Force will also retire the 50-year-old U-2 in favor of Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system (UAS), which now benefits from reduced operating costs and greater range and endurance, Hagel explains.
The Air Force will slow the growth of its armed unmanned system arsenal growing to a force of 55 around-the-clock combat air patrols of Predator and Reaper aircraft, rather than the 65 UAS originally planned.
All bets are off, however, if sequestration-level cuts are re-imposed in 2016 and beyond; “the Air Force would need to make far more significant cuts to force structure and modernization,” Hagel explains.