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Air Force aviation may face more cuts

A KC-10 refuels another aircraft.
A KC-10 refuels another aircraft.
U.S. Air Force

The U.S. Air Force, which is already shrinking due to budget constraints, will have to scale back or nix a number of additional aviation programs if deep federal funding cuts known as sequestration return next year, a top service official said March 14.

The Air Force would have to slow purchases of F-35A stealthy fighter jets and retire its fleets of KC-10 tanker aircraft and Global Hawk Block 40 unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James testified before the House Armed Services Committee. Programs to develop a next-generation engine and a new combat rescue helicopter would also be in jeopardy.

James urged lawmakers to restore funding to prevent such cuts, saying, “We feel that it would simply be too much of a compromise for our national security.”

Under a budget agreement reached in December, Congress and the Obama administration curbed the sequester cuts in fiscal years 2014 and 2015. But those reductions will return in FY 2016, which begins in October 2015, unless lawmakers and the White House take further action.

The cuts outlined by James would be on top of the aviation reductions the Air Force has proposed in its FY 2015 budget, including retiring the aging A-10 close-air-support jet and U-2 reconnaissance plane, trimming the size of the F-15C fighter fleet by more than a fifth, and canceling radar upgrades for F-16 fighter. The FY 2015 budget request is under review by Congress.

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