WASHINGTON: Air Force Needs and Wants (Update)
The uniformed and civilian heads of the U.S. Air Force came to Capitol Hill Tuesday (March 20) to explain the thinking behind cuts to personnel and aircraft in their Fiscal Year 2013 budget request.
But nearly every member of the Senate Armed Services Committee questioned the wisdom of trimming or eliminating large and small cargo transport planes and putting more than a dozen long range unmanned surveillance aircraft in storage – especially when the Pentagon’s new strategic guidance focuses on the vast Asia-Pacifc region and being more nimble and fast reacting.
Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz explained that fiscal constraints on the entire federal budget and the reduction in force following the massive military buildup during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan necessitated the cuts.
The 2012 Air Force Posture Statement notes that the average age of its aircraft has risen dramatically with fighters averaging 22 years, bombers 35 years and refueling tankers 47 years. It also notes that the budget increases approved by Congress over the last decade have been spent on “operational expenses, not procurement.”
Donley said the Air Force was trading “size for quality” in its $110.1 billion base budget request with another $11.5 billion for overseas operations – mostly Afghanistan. But he and Schwartz insisted – as have all Pentagon officials appearing before Congress to explain the 2013 defense budget cuts – that national security needs and not economics informed their decisions.
Senators questioned them about decisions to retire 27 massive C-5A cargo aircraft and cut the minimum number of strategic airlift aircraft from 301 to 275; to trim 65 older C-130 cargo aircraft, leaving 318 planes to support tactical operations; and drop the planned 38-aircraft in the C-27 program – relying instead on the remaining C-130 fleet to support Army operations.
Sen. Carl Levin, the committee chairman, said he was troubled by the fact that the cuts in manpower and aircraft “are falling disproportionately on the Air National Guard.” Other senators from Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Ohio and Mississippi raised similar concerns.
Committee members also questioned the decision to mothball more than a dozen RQ-4 Global Hawk high altitude unmanned aircraft system for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
The Air Force officials said it would cost too much to upgrade the sensors on the Global Hawk to make them equivalent to manned U-2 spy planes. Eighteen Block C Global Hawks will be mothballed, said Schwartz with six going into “non-recoverable storage” with 12 others headed for “recoverable storage” for possible transfer to NATO or other allies.
Entry filed under: Aircraft, National Security and Defense, Special Operations, Unmanned Aircraft, Unmanned Systems, Washington, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: 2013 Defense Budget, aerospace, Air Force, Defense, drones, military aviation, RQ-4 Global Hawk, Special Operations, UAS, UAV, unmanned aircraft.